So I just watched "The Last Station" and was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining (and educational) it was. The film was officially released in limited theaters last year (in order to compete in last years awards) but since it was really released this year, it will likely make my list of "best films of 2010". Here is why you should rent it:
1. James McAvoy - Once again, McAvoy gives us an award-worthy performance and once again, McAvoy was over-looked during award season. He is one of the few actors that instantly makes a film better just by being in it. His portrayal of the conflicted Valentin was the perfect combination of emotion, subtlety and humor.
2. The others - Helen Mirren was impeccable (has she ever been anything less?) and Christopher Plummer was perfectly casted as Tolstoy. They both give worthy performances, but it was really the other actors that were unjustly ignored. Paul Giamatti shines as the somewhat conniving Chertkov, Kerry Condon (the amazing Octavia from the series Rome) was perfect as the seductress, Masha - tempting Valentin to follow his heart and Anne-Marie Duff continues her reign as an under-rated actress as the seemingly cold-hearted daughter of Tolstoy. These performances alone make the film worth watching.
3. Tolstoy - I admit I have very limited knowledge of Tolstoy or his work - basically I knew that he wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina (both of which I have never read). I thought for sure that the subject matter of this film was going to bore me to tears - instead I actually learned a lot (always a pleasant surprise). So, apparently Tolstoy had these cult like followers - these "disciples" of his are referred to as Tolstoyans. They believed in living a life of "purity" (i.e abstinence) and of peaceful resistance - both themes are explored in the film. Yet, the biggest theme explored is the notion of private property - Tolstoy was against this (so basically he was a Communist as well as an Anarchist). The best part of all is that Tolstoy lived his life in complete contradiction of his beliefs! He admitted to having "wild" sexual affairs before he was married plus he lived in what seems like a castle - complete with servants. He practiced the "do as I say, not as I do" philosophy. The plot of the film focuses on the death of Tolstoy, or more importantly his will. The Tolstoyans believed that upon his death his works (and his money) should be considered public domain, while his wife believed that his works (and his money) should be distributed to his family. We never really know what Tolstoy wanted, but ultimately he is pressured to sign over everything to the Tolstoyans.
4. "Love and be Loved" - Along with the fascinated details of Tolstoy's ideologies, the film is also a love story. Tolstoy's relationship with his wife was intoxicating and tumultuous and therefore extremely passionate. I believe that the audience is led to believe that Tolstoy was in love with his wife, but he was equally in love with the idea of being loved by his followers. This was his ultimate conflict. The fictional love story between Valentin and Masha (a rebel Tolstoyan) provides the audience with the ultimate answer - they both choose love over Tolstoy.
5. The power of the media - Isn't it amazing that even back in the early 1900's the media was harassing celebrities and distorting the truth? Fascinating.