TELLURIDE: ‘The Last Station’ premieres to the world

Posted by · 9:32 pm · September 4th, 2009

(from left) Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren in The Last StationMichael Hoffman’s “The Last Station,” adapted from Jay Parini’s novel about the last days of famed Russian author Leo Tolstoy, has been on my radar for quite some time.  There seemed to be an air of awards potential around Christopher Plummer, who stars as a dwindling Tolstoy, and Helen Mirren, as his fiery wife, Countess Sofya.

The film had its world premiere tonight here in Telluride in front of a packed audience.  The line was out the door and around the block, partly because it’s opening night, partly because of the fact that Helen Mirren is on-hand (though, as it turns out, not until later tonight).  But those hoping to hear a nice chat with the actress after the film weren’t disappointed for long:  Hoffman had Vladimir Tolstoy in tow, overseer of the Tolstoy estate, and a number of other Tolstoy family members as well.

But first, the film.  It’s a delightful effort with bright comedic spots throughout, but it’s also thematically resilient in its depiction of a relationship, 48 years on, nearly torn apart by diverging philosophies on religion, property, etc.  It’s a touching exploration of love in its many forms.  “Yes, love is hard,” Hoffman said after the screening.  “You want to do what you need to do, they want to do what they need to do, but I don’t know what else to do.”

Christopher Plummer is serviceable as Tolstoy.  It’s not the baiting performance you might expect and I rather liked it for that.  Helen Mirren — who seems to get more and more beautiful with age — is wild and, at times, gut-wrenching as a woman clearly in love with her husband but terrified of the endowment he may deny his family by signing his life’s work into the public domain (at the encouragement of a dedicated disciple capably performed by Paul Giamatti).

James McAvoy offers the film’s great performance.  He benefits from having the most complex arc, but he takes his Valentin Bulgakov — a devoted Tolstoyan who learns nuance in the doctrine where others see rigid discipline — on a touching journey of love, commitment, anxiety and passion.

The Tolstoy clan came to the mic for a brief Q&A session with the audience after the film.  Along with Vladimir (Tolstoy’s great-grandson) was his niece, Sophya, s0 named for Mirren’s Countess.  There are plans to show the film in Russia, when the Tolstoy family convenes for an annual family reunion.

One thing that struck me early on was the choice to film “The Last Station” in English, probably expected but, given the subject matter, a bit disorienting.  But I liked what Vladimir had to say to that, as it was brought up by an audience member.  “I think it’s better that it is in English,” he said, his daughter translating, “because that makes it more universal, and Leo Tolstoy’s work was meant for all of mankind.”

It might sound contrived, but it fits snugly in with the film’s themes of immortalizing one’s art and being responsible with your legacy.  But considering some 250 descendants attend that Tolstoy family reunion every year, it becomes clear that Tolstoy’s legacy isn’t merely on the page.

“The Last Station” hasn’t secured domestic distribution yet, but I imagine it won’t have a hard time finding a buyer somewhere down the line.

→ 25 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

25 responses so far

  • 1 9-04-2009 at 10:12 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    Ooooooooooooooooh. Thanks for this. I didn’t put this on my list of films I can’t wait to see because of the distribution. But now it seems safe. James McAvoy, Helen Mirren, Paul Giamatti. Hell yes I’m along for the ride…so I guess this means no sympathy nod for Plummer? I hope you give a full review later.

  • 2 9-04-2009 at 10:13 pm

    head_wizard said...

    Sounds basically forgettable overall guess Plummer won’t be getting that life time achievenment nomination any time soon.

  • 3 9-05-2009 at 1:10 am

    lc said...

    Thanks for reviewing The Last Station so quickly. I’ve been eagerly waiting for some kind of information on this film. I’m really looking forward to it now. Please keep us updated about any purchases for WIDE US distribution.

  • 4 9-05-2009 at 4:52 am

    Loyal said...

    Yeah, I’d had Plummer, McAvoy, and Giamatti asterisked since the project was first announced.

  • 5 9-05-2009 at 4:54 am

    Loyal said...

    And I’m a bit saddened to hear Plummer might not fit the living legend slot in the race. I’d hoped the role would have been more baity.

  • 6 9-05-2009 at 5:52 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    You guys are serious “glass half-empty” types. You see hopes of a nod for Plummer dashed (admittedly disappointing), I see a chance for James McAvoy – who gave a great performance that was sadly overshadowed in The Last King of Scotland – to get recognition.

  • 7 9-05-2009 at 6:09 am

    Loyal said...

    I like McAvoy. But Plummer is 49 years older and less likely to work as long as McAvoy will. It’s a race against time.

  • 8 9-05-2009 at 9:26 am

    Gustavo H.R. said...

    McAvoy can wait. Plummer cannot.

  • 9 9-05-2009 at 10:36 am

    billybil said...

    Yes – McAvoy can wait, Plummer cannot is the same thing I was shouting last year about Streep vs. Winslet. For God’s sake lets give Streep 3 more Oscars so I can relax!

  • 10 9-05-2009 at 2:30 pm

    Jorge said...

    I’m sorry billybil but i disagree with you. I think anyone who says that Meryl Streep deserved that Oscar over Anne Hathaway or Melissa Leo seriously did not see Doubt – Streep was all “over-acting” and no outside creativity whatsoever. Hugely dissapointing perf., and I know I’m not alone here….

  • 11 9-05-2009 at 5:41 pm

    alex said...

    I still think Plummer could get in – his category is weak. McAvoy seems like a sure thing in supporting.

    And could Mirren be the filler in the Lead Actress ? Playing the long-suffering wife of a famous author doesn’t hurt her prospect. And she gets to do an accent !

  • 12 9-05-2009 at 6:54 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Again with the dumb Meryl “over-acting” argument. If you think she should have done anything less with THAT role then you aren’t using common sense. Is Sister Aloysius a subtle character?

    Now please stop being silly.

  • 13 9-05-2009 at 7:11 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Come on, there were plenty of histrionics there, outlandish character or not.

  • 14 9-05-2009 at 7:20 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Well I don’t agree. She played the fire-breathing, wretchedly tyrannical nun perfectly. Sometimes hysterics are necessary. Her character was hysterical.

  • 15 9-05-2009 at 8:20 pm

    daveylow said...

    Why isn’t this showing in Toronto?

  • 16 9-06-2009 at 6:16 am

    Kline said...

    Okay, so it’s in English. But why do we insist on calling him Leo. His name is Lev, and it’s not no more difficult than Leo. Also, the emphasis is on the second syllable TolSTOY!

  • 17 9-06-2009 at 10:34 pm

    lavdawg said...

    Can’t believe you aren’t trumpeting Plummer in what is, in my mind, the most singular role of his career. Indeed, your inability to recognize this Oscar-worthy performance (perfectly ,matched by Mirren’s brilliant turn at Sophia), really undermines your credibility as a reviewer (who the heck are you, anyway?). This is easily the best film I’ve seen at this year’s festival (and yes, I’ve seen a lot of the ‘biggies’–including An Education and Up in the Air). You need to remind yourself that films like The Last Station–which manage to present life as a bittersweet amalgamation of comedy, tragedy, pettiness and nobility–and whose central idea is that love sustains us all, are what film is all about. I’m sorry, but you are a fool if you cannot immediately see this movie’s profound (and profoundly moving) success.

  • 18 9-06-2009 at 10:54 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yippee, I’m a fool.

    Though I’m struggling to see where I failed to indicate that the film is a success. I’m sorry I didn’t do the dance you required, lavdawg. Clearly I liked the film.

    If you’d like to come back and engage like an adult without the weird antagonism, I’m happy to hear you out. Otherwise, stop wasting our time with petty nonsense.

    It’s Sophya, by the way. With a “y.”

  • 19 9-06-2009 at 10:56 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Oh, and “who the heck are you?” is your attempt at what, exactly? I’m a guy who saw a film and offered my thoughts. Who the heck are YOU?

  • 20 9-06-2009 at 11:15 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    “who the heck are you, anyway?”

    Umm, he’s Kris Tapley? Wow, what an odd question.

    Though you have to admit, Kris, it would be nice if his enthusiasm for Christopher Plummer was shared by enough Academy voters to give him the “We’re sorry for not recognizing you in The Sound of Music and The Insider” nomination. Granted, you didn’t say Plummer was bad at all, you just said his performance wasn’t Oscar-bait.

  • 21 9-06-2009 at 11:20 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I don’t typically condone make-up nods. They come at the expense of more deserving work. It definitely sucks that Plummer hasn’t received his proper due, believe me.

    And I said it wasn’t the baiting performance you might expect. And it’s not. It’s quieter, smaller. McAvoy and Mirren have more compelling arcs at the end of the day.

  • 22 9-06-2009 at 11:38 pm

    lc said...

    I have not seen the movie, but I am anxiously and eagerly waiting for it to find a distributor in the US.

    I’d love to see Plummer receive an Oscar for any reason. He always gives a wonderful performance, some better than others, but always enjoyable.

    However, the statement that ” McAvoy can wait” is the same thing they said about Plummer earlier in his career. Now here we are waiting for a role to earn Plummer an Oscar that he deserved for all his past “baity” performances. It is a vicious cycle.

    Hopefully, we won’t be having this same discussion about a “make-up nod” for James McAvoy in a couple of decades.

    I think I read that just this summer, the academy did away with the Oscar that is usually given for the lifetime achievement. Did I understand this correctly?

  • 23 9-16-2009 at 1:50 pm

    GotoMovies said...

    Last Station really delivered at Telluride. They programmed extra screenings; the audience loved it and there were standing ovations for Helen Mirren and the director at the big cinema. And what about Plummer? He’s so great in the film precisely because he isn’t hamming it up as the great poet, or writer, or whatever. THAT’s what the nomination should be for. I love a film where it’s spinning on a dime between laugh-out-loud and very sad and emotional. And I’m a man, all you demographs. LAST STATION was good, emotional cinema. Looked good, sounded good and packed a movie punch.

  • 24 10-02-2009 at 2:42 pm

    BerkeleyGirl said...

    Glad to know I’m not alone in having great admiration for Streep that stops short of true love… I’m always palpably aware that it’s Meryl Streep. Mirren, on the other hand, despite considerable star quality, disappears into her roles. For all Streep’s powers, I doubt she could have pulled off as fine a Queen (Elizabeth I or II), let alone Jane Tennyson. Mirren’s drunk walk from the bar in the last arc of “Prime Suspect” was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. So real, I wanted to reach through the TV and grab her car keys… I’ve never felt that way about Streep.

  • 25 11-15-2009 at 12:48 pm

    Milena said...

    Sorry we have not seen the film, yet. I am sure it will come here, sooner or later. It was at the Rome film festival recently. Well, here everybody likes, even loves Streep. But Mirren, too. She is special, simply fantastic. One of the greatest actrisses ever. And I beleive that she is fabulous as Sofija – as we transcribe the Russian name Sofia. First of all, she is Russin, and has a famous “Russian soul”. She can feel Sofija easily. McAvoy acts a very interesting and dear caracter. He is a very talented and well-known actor, too. Plummer we have known for a long time. He must be good as Tolstoj. We, Slavs, know a lot about Lav Tolstoj (our transcription), his life and work. It is a part of everybody’s regular education. Dostojevski and Tolstoj, alpha and omega, so our students invented the abbreviation: Tolstojevski. Nobody says anything about the author of the novel – Jay Parini. I had the honour to translate that novel. I am looking forward to seeing the film, remembering every small detail of the novel.