Written by Michael Hoffman

Directed by Michael Hoffman

 Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti, Helen Mirren



The Last Station


I see dead people... I see Leo Tolstoy in his grave.  I see Leo turning slowly from side to side.  I see him starting to spin in his grave, faster and faster until he bursts out and strangles Michael Hoffman, the man who wrote and directed “The Last Station,” a turgid and inert film about the last year of Tolstoy’s life...


Whooo!  That felt good; after all, I’m entitled to a little fantasy now and then, but let’s not forget that Leo Tolstoy, the man who wrote a couple of the greatest novels of all time, plus some extraordinary short stories, deserves something a little better than a movie called  The Last Station.” 


“The Last Station” is no doubt accurate in its essentials, in the same way that Cliff’s notes are.:  When Tolstoy was old and living on his utopian farm, he was the more-or-less willing host to a man named Chertkov (played by Paul Giamatti in the film) who was such an acolyte of Tolstoy’s vision of the world that he wormed himself into his inner circle with the idea that Tolstoy should write a new will leaving his entire estate and the proceeds of his novels to something called ‘the Russian people’ rather than to his wife and his 13 children, thereby cutting them off from any royalties they might have collected and leaving them penniless..


Tolstoy – played here by the Canadian actor Christopher Plummer – has already lost sight of his wife and family, although Helen Mirren, who plays Sofia, his wife, tries in vain to rekindle some of his earlier ardor for her.  But the movie doesn’t really follow them so much as it follows a young, virginal secretary, Valentin (played by James McAvoy) whom Chertkov hires to be a spy within the family and report back to him just what’s happening between Tolstoy and his wife.  Chertkov has been exiled by Sofia and forbidden to come to the Tolstoy farm.


So all the elements are in place, but what is wrong with the film?   The dialogue is mundane, the shots and editing are uninteresting, the tensions and conflicts are all laid out for us in advance, there are no moments when little or nothing is happening, as they might in life, but we see only the moments of great conflict, and none of the people, with one exception, are interesting.  And no, it’s not Leo Tolstoy but his wife Sofia, who engages our interest even though we know she is to lose her battle for her husband.


So imagine making a film about the greatest novelist in history and making it so dull that we squirm in our seats.  That’s what “The Last Station” is, when it could have been a triumph.