Saturday, February 27, 2010

THE LAST STATION

Well worth catching. It's one of those small movies, like BRIGHT STAR, that's one interpretation of a literary legend (in this case novelist Jay Pairini's take on Leo Tolstoy's last days) that though a "small movie" is maybe better appreciated on the big screen.

The opening shots of rural vistas (whispering birches, inviting summer meadows, endless farm fields, etc.) and the lightly fleeting music playing under these scenes sets the stage for the turn-of-the century radical experiments based on Tolstoy's ideas that rhymes in cinematic mood and rhythm and imagery with many movies of the early 1960s, a time that was inspired by many of those ideas. (One of my first encounters with what would become known as "hippie culture" etc. was at "Tolstoy Farm" in Washington state, not far from where I was stationed in the military at the time.)

Those rustic scenes also give resonance to the epic scope of Tolstoy's "genius" and his beloved Russian countryside. It's a creative cliche but it works, showing the contrast between the grandeur of what Tolstoy stood for and the daily struggle between he and his wife of many years (and mother of his thirteen children) over his legacy.

It's one of the great ensemble acting movies of the past year as well. (Credit goes to director Michael Hoffman who also directed two old favorites of mine RESTORATION and SOAPDISH, talk about variety.)

Helen Mirren totally deserves her Oscar nomination for her role as Countess Tolstoy, and at least tonight, after just seeing it, would get my vote.

As for Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy, he has been a little problematic to me as an actor over the course of his career. Captain Von Trapp was the exception until now as Plummer's talent always struck me as better suited to the stage, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC is a very stagey movie.

But what he does with his characterization of the aging writer in THE LAST STATION is without a doubt his greatest performance. It's nuanced and realistic and hits every point on the emotional spectrum with at times a surprising restraint and at others a well-earned—i.e. justifiable in terms of character and story—intensity.

He's nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and deserves to get it, especially since he's in his eighties and probably won't get another chance. But the odds are on Christoph Waltz who plays the Nazi caricature in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (talk about a deliberately stagey movie) as if he were updating the classic Hollywood Nazi for our "reality TV" sensibilities.

But the actor who's been overlooked for an incredibly effective performance in LAST STATION is James McAvoy, who I'm sure we'll see receiving an Oscar in the future if just to make up for his being overlooked in these early years of his careere when he has proven himself to be not only amazingly versatile, but heartbreakingly competent. (e.g. in ATONEMENT and THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND).

I would see this movie again immediately, just to watch McAvoy's performance, really all three of these actors' performances.

2 comments:

Elisabeth said...

I look forward to seeing The Last Station if only to be able to imagine more about the Tolstoy of my fantasies.

Thanks for this review, Michael. I enjoyed it. Now for the film.

harryn said...

glad to hear the kudos for Christopher Plummer ...
saw a few of the movie trailers and was surprised at how engaging his character appeared - and the countryside, mmm ...
i was hard pressed to think of another actor who would have been able to pull it off - the stature, dignified authority, etc...
a question i was going to pose to you ...
definitely on my 'to do soon' list ...