Helen Mirren. If there is a name to be praised in this, it’s hers. Oh, and Christopher Plummer too. As one can tell from the trailer, the Last Station chronicles the final months of Leo Tolstoy’s life, surrounding the turbulence of the marriage between himself and Sofya and the Tolstoyan movement, which wants to leave his works to the Russian people.

But it’s the two aforementioned actors that makes this movie shine. Every scene they’re in are some of the best scenes committed to film in recent memory. Their interplay with each other is phenomenal, showing quite convincingly the love and breakdown of a marriage between a leader (albeit not a very good one) of a social movement and the wife who thinks it’s all phooey. Their Oscar nominations are well deserves.

And they’re not the main characters either (though Mirren and Plummer receive top billing). While the plot surrounds the reworkings of Tolstoy’s will, the central character in this is Valentin (James McAvoy), a dedicated Tolstoyan who becomes Tolstoy’s secretary. He’s hired by Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), the leader of the movement in Moscow, to write everything down that he witnesses. Everyone believes the Countess to be mad (the sentiment is returned), so they only want to get her out of the picture by changing the will. Sofya plots as well, and asks Valentin to write for her. Valentin, easily worrisome, sneezes repeatedly when dealing with this chess game.

The rest of the film is fine indeed, but the other actors (McAvoy, Giamatti, Kerry Condon as a maybe Tolstoyan in the movement’s colony, and McAvoy’s real life wife Anne-Marie Duff as Tolstoy’s Tolstoyan daughter) can’t keep up with the two powerhouses in Mirren and Plummer. All play their roles as they should (all of them fine performances) but Mirren and Plummer really do become their real life counterparts. You become lost as you watch them on screen.

Hilarious at times, sentimental as well, with an overarching question as to what love really is. Which, between Sofya and the Tolstoyans, it becomes really hard to define. Well made and well done.

B+

Note to the tag “movies 2010”: for date of release, I determine that by when the movie officially begins box office tracking (usually by finding the movie’s page on Box Office Mojo).  The movie’s official release was January 15th, 2010.  However, the studio played it in select theaters for a weekend in December to qualify it for the Academy Awards.  So, while the movie has nominees for 2009 movies, the box office tracking begins in 2010, hence, the tag “movies 2010”.

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