February 01, 2010

MOVIES: The Last Station (Michael Hoffman, 2009)

It's 1910, and we are at the country estate of Count Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), who is caught up in an ongoing battle with the Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren). At the advising of his best friend, Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), Tolstoy is considering leaving the copyright to all of his work to the Russian people; Sofya sees this as a betrayal of her and their children. Caught between the dueling Tolstoys is Leo's new private secretary, Bulgakov (James McAvoy), an adherent to the Tolstoyan philosophy which advocates an end to private property, equality for all, and celibacy. The latter provision is particularly challenging for Bulgakov after he meets the fetching young Masha (Kerry Condon) at the nearby Tolstoyan commune where both live.

The Last Station is a servicable costume drama, but it's juggling too many subplots; the romance could easily have been chopped out without any serious damage.

The bigger problem is that the actxors are performing in vastly different movies. The romance between McAvoy and Condon is played at a fairly naturalistic level; Plummer and Giamatti are much bigger and more theatrical (and I think they're at the level that best suits the material and the movie's overall style).

And then there's Mirren, who plays every scene as if her audience is seated across the Grand Canyon, and even that audience might think she was hamming it up a bit. It's an insane piece of overacting, and I am baffled by the widespread praise for it.

No comments: