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cinemadaily | “The Last Station” Stops Off in US

cinemadaily | "The Last Station" Stops Off in US

Telluride and Toronto standout and Indie Spirit nomination leader “The Last Station” is coming to the US this weekend in limited release. Critics are torn over Michael Hoffman’s film, a look at the last days of Leo Tolstoy, which stars Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren as Mr. and Mrs. Tolstoy. Time Out New York‘s Nick Schager says in his less-than-enthusiastic review, “Prone to slipping into corny comedy and, worse, confusion over its viewpoint, Michael Hoffman’s biopic of Leo Tolstoy’s final year filters its historical drama through a turgid coming-of-age experience. The author’s acolyte Valentin ([James] McAvoy) is commissioned by a literary fanatic ([Paul] Giamatti) to assist the Russian writer (Plummer) and spy on the household’s goings-on. At Tolstoy’s country estate, things become tense thanks to an impending decision to bequeath his work to the public domain and, in doing so, leave his disapproving wife—the Countess Sofya (Mirren)—out in the financial cold.”

Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum counters, saying, “Three years after her triumphant, Oscar-winning performance as a modern British monarch in ‘The Queen,’ Mirren is magnificent as Countess Sofya — better known as Mrs. Leo Tolstoy — in ‘The Last Station,’ a grandly entertaining historical drama about the final year of the great Russian writer’s life. Based on the equally entertaining, erudite novel by Jay Parini and adapted and directed by Michael Hoffman (‘The Emperor’s Club’), the movie is at once a hot marital showdown and a cool political debate, a domestic ‘War and Peace.'” The AP’s Jake Coyle agrees, “Mirren’s Sofya is coming undone. Watching her life with Tolstoy given away, she’s a whirlwind of self-pity and she resorts to grandiose, hysterical theatrics. In one scene, she shimmies from one balcony to another to spy on a meeting between Tolstoy and Chertkov. Our sympathies clearly reside with her — she’s a glorious and utterly human mess. To no one’s surprise, Mirren throws herself fully into the role. In a quiet moment riding in an open carriage through a field with Bulgakov, she wonders of the Tolstoyans, “What do they know about love?””

Calling the film a “‘Masterpiece Theatre’-style drama,” The Hollywood Reporter‘s Stephen Farber says, “Although this story of the last days of Leo Tolstoy is specialized material, it packs an emotional wallop that costume pictures often lack. ‘Station’ has the potential to be a substantial art house hit. It also is the high-water mark in Hoffman’s 20-year career.” Cinematical‘s Eugene Novikov disagrees, saying, “The Last Station’s strong suit is its emphasis on the relative unimportance of abstract causes. Tolstoy, and his wife, and his kids, may have believed – truly, deeply believed – and number of things about social justice, property, religion, et cetera. In the end, these heady ideals didn’t much matter. What mattered to Tolstoy were the people to whom he clung and with whom he chose to spend his life. This comes through well in the movie’s strong conclusion, but by then it’s too little too late. The Last Station appeared to reduce much of the audience here to tears, but at best I could take it or leave it. For the most part, it is frustrating, and disappointingly gutless.”

Slate Magazine‘s Andrew Schenker takes umbrage with the film’s overall structure, “In ‘The Last Station,’ four dimly imagined characters act out the drama surrounding the final days in the life of Leo Tolstoy and, in adherence to the tradition (most recently embodied by Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles) of viewing a historical superstar through the filter of an enthusiastic young follower, Michael Hoffman’s film takes the dimmest of this tetrad as its central figure.” For Ella Taylor of the Village Voice, “The movie is fine, but my heart only stopped for the actual footage at the end, with Tolstoy, encircled by Sonya and entourage, being shown to his deathbed after flying the coop to get a little peace.”

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