Opening with balalaikas, scurrying agrarians in collarless shirts, and helpful intertitles announcing that Tolstoy was "the most celebrated writer in the world," The Last Station threatens at first to be Tolstoy for Dummies as interpreted by Monty Python. Soon enough, though, this workmanlike adaptation of Jay Parini's novel about Tolstoy's last days, adapted and directed by Michael Hoffman, settles into a lushly scenic television drama, though with dialogue strangely located somewhere in the 1950s. The deal is that old Leo (a suitably grumpy Christopher Plummer) was not nearly as Tolstoyan as his adoring acolytes: Neither veggie nor monk, he was rich as Croesus and a randy old geezer. What's more, he fought a love-hate war with his bipolar wife, Sonya, and thank God for that, since it allows Helen Mirren, basically playing a cross between Ibsen drama queen Hedda Gabler and the little squirrel from A Doll's House, to waltz away with the movie. James McAvoy is hopelessly miscast as the naïve private secretary who gets caught in a war between Sonya, Leo, and the savvy image-maker Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) over who will get the copyright to Tolstoy's workhis family or Mother Russia. 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.
Feb. 5-11, 2010