25 February 2010

At the movies: The Last Station.

Oscar nominations do a lot to increase a film's profile, and it's on the strength of the acting (and the Academy Award nominations for it) that this film has catapulted itself into public awareness. This could just as easily have been a Movie of the Week or cable network effort, and as such it might have swept the Emmys.

But the reason why everyone is talking about this film is Helen Mirren. Always fun and sometimes quite genius, here she rules the screen like a queen, speaking sweetly, seducing her husband all over again, plotting, fixing problems, and tearfully crawling around on the ground like Patti LaBelle. It's a magnificent turn.

Celebrated author Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) in the early twentieth century had become the voice of a movement, one of thought, social action, and altruism. His beloved wife, the Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren, rightfully deserving of her Oscar nomination), finds herself at odds with her husband over his many acolytes and his plans to give away his copyrights to the people. Into their midst comes Valentin (James McAvoy, as always the go-to guy for classy/sexy British audience surrogates), initially working as a spy for Tolstoy's right hand man Chertkoff (Paul Giamatti, hissably vicious), but eventually finding things a bit more complicated after getting to know the Tolstoys a bit better.

Anyone coming to this film to learn about Tolstoy's ideologies in depth will be disappointed. The plot essentially distills down to intrigue and deception over copyright and celibacy, so thankfully the cast step in to amp up the drama to soap opera levels- which is a good thing. Mirren is pure gold here, and Plummer underplays nicely to contrast her. The two are believable as a longtime couple, and the supporting cast fulfills its duties efficiently. Even if the script weren't so firmly stacked in favor of Mirren's Sofya, she would have you won over by the end, anyway.

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