“Last Station” delivers

By Nick Coviello

Each year it seems as though there are one or two independent films which grasp enough of the mainstream that they are nominated for several Oscars. This year, one of those films is “The Last Station,” an adaptation from the novel of the same name. “The Last Station” is directed by Michael Hoffman, who doesn’t stray far from what he’s come to be known for as a director. Hoffman’s trademark style contains beautiful visuals of old time Europe, and “The Last Station” is no different in that sense.

Set in Germany and Russia in 1910, Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy) is hired as Leo Tolstoy’s (Christopher Plummer) secretary by Tolstoy’s good friend and fellow Tolstoyan movement leader, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), under the guidelines that he will keep a diary of Tolstoy’s wife Sofya’s (Helen Mirren) actions. Chertkov explains that Sofya or The Countess as she’s referred to, is a danger to Tolstoyanism, which deals with spreading passive resistance and watching out for the common man. As Valentin settles in, he begins to witness the differences between Tolstoy and The Countess, as they seem to disagree about all issues, from politics to religion; however, there is no denying the two love each other.

Valentin finds himself fascinated to be around Tolstoy and claims to be a Tolstoyan, essentially orbiting around love and compassion for all living things. However, while originally in awe and overcome with emotion at the fact that Tolstoy would ask him about his own life, Valentin comes to notice that whenever he speaks with Tolstoy, the topic of conversation is always just that. Whenever Tolstoy and Valentin engage in conversation, Tolstoy always asks Valentin what he thinks. Eventually, Valentin realizes that he cannot fall back on Tolstoyan views in every aspect of his life and instead must be true to himself and think what he feels. Coincidentally, Valentin had met a girl by the name of Masha (Kerry Condon) a few weeks earlier, and upon his newfound revelation, takes an interest in her.

As the story moves forward, the tensions continue to mount between the characters. The Countess believes Tolstoy and Chertkov are going behind her back to change Tolstoy’s will, which would give their inheritance to the people, a very Tolstoyan move, instead of his own children. The Countess grows extremely frustrated with her husband’s actions, while hating Chertkov more and more, as Tolstoy begins to feel intolerant of his wife’s behavior. Meanwhile, Valentin also must face a crossroads, as his fellow Tolstoyans (Chertkov included) begin to disapprove of his relationship with Masha. All the while, Valentin attempts to balance his Tolstoyan beliefs and his feelings for Masha. The battle between personal beliefs and love then takes the viewer through a whirlwind experience of emotion and surely leaves them satisfied.

Simply stated, the main themes of “The Last Station” are to be true to oneself and to love. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that Tolstoy and The Countess disagree on almost all topics of civilized discussion; however, their love remains strong and conquers all.

“The Last Station” features one of the year’s best casts, as it received strong performances from all of its leads, including McAvoy, Giamatti and Condon; however, it is Mirren and Plummer who steal the show. The two golden age actors do a wonderful job portraying a loving, yet chaotic relationship, and are able to switch gears at relative ease. The range of acting is truly jaw-dropping, as Mirren and Plummer are able to convey amazing chemistry, such as the scene in which the Countess lures Tolstoy back to the bedroom and they start clucking like chickens at one another, causing an uproar of laughter, and then later are able to make it seem as though they simply cannot tolerate one another’s presence. Both Mirren and Plummer were rewarded for their superb performances by receiving Oscar nominations; Mirren for Best Actress and Plummer for Best Supporting Actor.

While “The Last Station” isn’t exactly a movie the majority of people would rush out to see on a Friday night, it features a well thought-out narrative, many comical lines of dialogue and action, a beautiful setting, wonderful performances and, most importantly, an excellent story about true love and its ability to overcome anything in its way. In the end, it’s 112 minutes that you won’t wish you had back and is truly one of the hidden gems of today’s independent films. While it may not seem like it would appeal to you at first glance, “The Last Station” is simply a powerful love story and, to take the words of The Countess: “[everyone] loves a romance.”

Nick Coviello can be reached at  [email protected]