STUDIO: Sony Pictures Classics
MSRP: $27.96
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
•    Audio Commentary with Director Michael Hoffman
•    Audio Commentary with stars Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren
•    Deleted Scenes
•    The Missed Station – Outtakes
•    A Tribute to Christopher Plummer
•    Theatrical Trailer

The Pitch

Doctor Parnassus’ wife Queen Elizabeth fights for control of their family’s future with Harvey Pekar, Julia Lennon and Mr. Tumnus on the sidelines.

“Yes, I’m here for the mud wrestling?”

The Humans

Starring: Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, Paul Giamatti, Anne-Marie Duff, Kerry Condon and James McAvoy

Screenplay and Directed by Michael Hoffman

The Nutshell

The last days of infamous Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s life are told through the eyes of his new assistant Valentin. A limping story is buoyed by skilled actors and high production quality.

“You look like Will Arnett dressed as General Zod.”
“I get that a lot.” 

The Lowdown

During his lifetime, Leo Tolstoy (Plummer) promoted and developed the ideals of pacifism, Christian anarchism, and nonviolent resistance based on his interpretation of Jesus’ ethical teachings. Along with Vladimir Chertkov (Giamatti), he began Tolstoyan, a movement that applied his ideals to everyday life in Czarist Russia. You don’t need to know this going into Director Michael Hoffman’s The Last Station, but it helps.

Every outlandish group needs to be introduced to the audience through the eyes of a newbie, and here Valentin (McAvoy) is our man, newly hired to be Tolstoy’s personal assistant. McAvoy is well cast in the role as the nervous and often overwhelmed virgin who worships Tolstoy. As his friendship develops with both the great writer and his wife the Countess Sofya (Mirren), he is conflicted in his allegiance to the movement versus the emotional wellbeing of the Countess. The Tolstoys live in an opulent mansion and Tolstoy himself is treated as a massive celebrity for his time. What is today a common occurrence, paparazzi would then sit waiting like vultures outside his home for a glimpse at the famed individual, a fairly new practice at the time. But Director Hoffman incorporates it knowing that this device allows us as the audience to get into this foreign story of a time and place that few people experienced firsthand.

“So there I was, slamming the sound of music out of Julie Andrews…”

Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy is a wonderful thing, well deserving of the award nominations he received. He has the charm, the aloofness, and the wisdom that the role demands. His story is mostly told through the eyes of those who try to influence him, whether it is Sofya or Chertkov, and the differing aspects of his self that they bring out. But Plummer has a way of making Tolstoy himself feel in command, the great mind and influencer that he was in real life. Mirren is certainly his match, and if nothing else the film is well acted.

The main issue with the film is that it tries to shoehorn in too many conventional plot points and wraps up a little too neatly. Of course young Valentin at times befriends and rallies against both Sofya and Chertkov to find his own true meaning as a follower of Tolstoy. Of course he finds a forbidden love along the way. Of course Giamatti’s Chertkov is a lovable villain, while Mirren’s Sofya is a madwoman with heart. And of course the film climaxes with the death of the great man, a train roaring off into the distance, and our protagonist walking away with newfound knowledge of life. Were the film a little more unconventional in narrative, more like the man Tolstoy himself, there would be more to appreciate than pretty pictures and strong acting.

Mr. Valentin’s Nightmare at Six Feet.

The Package

The Last Station comes packaged in a standard amray case. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, both of which do an adequate job. The bonus features begin with a pair of audio commentaries, one from the screenwriter/director Michael Hoffman and the other with stars Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren. Hoffman is knowledgeable and talkative; filling in facts about the life of Tolstoy, adapting the book to the screen, and working with the wonderful cast he assembled. Mirren and Plummer’s commentary is much sparser. The two veteran actors have a good rapport when they do discuss things, though the long gaps of silence do not a good commentary make.

The Missed Station, a blooper reel running 8 minutes, shows how the drama on screen was balanced by quite a bit of levity during production. A gag reel isn’t something necessarily expected for this type of film, but it is a welcome addition. Also included is a collection of various deleted scenes, running approximately 12 minutes, including an alternate opening and a few moments at the end that were excised for the sake of closing the story more quickly. At 19 minutes is footage from an AFI screening of the film that is labeled A Tribute to Christopher Plummer. Plummer sits down for a Q&A that covers his personal life and career. The Theatrical Trailer and spots for other Sony Pictures films are also included.

7 out of 10

The Last Station‘s blooper reel is based directly on the one at the end of War and Peace.