Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Last Station

"The Last Station" is Michael Hoffman's attempt at adapting a Jay Parini novel that gives the audience an entry point into the Tolstoy household, which is surrounded by paparazzi with notebooks and wind-up cameras. The entry point is a secretary, Valentin Bulgakov, who's mission (sent by Vladimir Chertkov) is to perpetuate the Tolstoyan movement before it crumbles due to the grasp of Sofya Tolstoy. Leo Tolstoy, however, feels the movement is not about him, and that the Tolstoyans are more "Tolstoy" than he himself is.

This film seems somewhat sugarcoated in its structure. It deviates from showing the two Tolstoys all the time and decides to follow Bulgakov through his affairs, having a love affair with Masha, who works at the Tolstoyan place. It could have been somewhat like what I've heard about William Gaddis' "Carpenter's Gothic," just a portrayal of the marriage itself with no parameters. But it brings in all of the history, too, which has its benefits but also its problems. It's an interesting film on a certain level, but I'd agree with the person who'd say its boring.

This story is not endlessly fascinating, and I don't think I'd want to see anyone but these actors giving it to me. Helen Mirren as Sofya practically makes the movie, with her uncontrollable manner to "make a scene" wherever she goes. She plays nice and sardonic for Bulgakov, but she's all insane around her husband, except in bed. Christopher Plummer is also good as Tolstoy, who finds himself behind something that's different than he imagined. Apparently "Tolstoy does not approve of sexual intercourse," but he does it himself, breaks all of the rules. He feels something, whereas everyone else has been relegated to not a thing but ideals. James McAvoy as Bulgakov is very painful to watch, enough said. A nose gag is used throughout the movie, to very annoying extents. Paul Giamatti is okay is Chertkov, but pretty "histrionic" (as a friend said) for once. Kerry Condon, who's pretty attractive here, makes a somewhat okayish performance.

If you're seeing this movie, it probably won't be for the story, more for the Oscar nominations given to Mirren and Plummer. That's a pretty good reason, as they're good. As a friend said, if you take them out of the equation, it's unsure of what this movie would be. B-


Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

This sounds interesting, especially for a literature buff like me. :-) And I love Helen Mirren.

Adelaide Dupont said...

If they wanted to make a movie about Buglakov, why did they not do this?

Tolstoy himself is probably too good (in both senses) to be ruined with this tawdriness.

I would have loved to have read and seen more about the movement.

And what a shame about Sonya.