Not having read the works of the novelist but I have about the importance of his presence in the history of literature and the system of living. A believer in passive resistance he was against private property. Being married to a Countess is not helping that and there comes the genesis of a life long battle of being the better halves to each other. At the age to write will, Tolstoy is among the woods in a giant house. The ideological differences are the tiffs I was talking but the real problem is the man Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti). Chertkov is the most trusted and the most loyal friend the novelist could get. Their belief gave birth to the Tolstoyan movement, a form of a spiritual clan they formed. Concerns grew from Chertkov that the writings of the man might not reach the Russians if Sofia acquires copyrights which prompts him to send Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy).
Valentin is sent as the innocent spy for Chertkov soon finds him the trusted person for both Tolstoy and Sofia. Being the disciple of the teachings of Tolstoy, he is trembling in happiness and overwhelm. He himself being the essayist arrives at the village like setting with the Tolstoyan philosophy. He strictly abides to the living of the preaching. Celibate and unquestioning of the values he has acquired, he sees a reasoning through Masha (Kerry Condon) an inhabitant in the movement.
Valentin meets the couple and is dazzled by the relationship they share. On one side he is baffled to work with his icon and idol while on the other side it is the shock of seeing the common man in Tolstoy. When I say common man, it is more about seeing him in the insignificant daily activities and mainly to share his love and toil with the pain of it with Sofia. They have led a wonderful love between each other. When they are in the brink breaking apart, Valentin discovers the love he has with Masha.
Michael Hoffman directs brilliant actors. With the three characters in the battle for affection are Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren and Paul Giamatti. Giamatti is that man never hesitating to grab any devious character by throat and provide a study does that with more balance than ever in Chertkov. Plummer as this messiah for his admirers and uncalled followers throws himself behind bushy beard and is in the predicament of disappointing someone or other. Helen Mirren was fantastic as the Queen and turned around her audience from disliking the character to feel sympathy and in this film as being the wife to fight for her attention and wondering what she has become provides another imbalance in the minds of her audience. But Paul Giamatti as this vicious fervent believer of Tolstoy would do anything to get the word spread. He has blinded himself to such a degree to begin making decisions for his idol and friend.
Amongst these giants of acting is James McAvoy, the young man put as this balanced perspective of this mess these people have created. His position goes from being naive to be aware of what it is to have an independent and individual thought. The notion of a person’s idol, prophet and god figure is a trap for danger. Valentin is conflicted when he learns that truth and begins to form opinions of his own. McAvoy is a peculiar actor whom I can see as the best man for many actors. But at the same time I am curious to see him stand on his own in a film.
“The Last Station” is a cautionary tale on marriage, love and friendship with the dash of philosophy. The people in this film care about their hero immensely but have their way to show it. While Chertkov comes off as this cold hearted intolerable and cruelly twisted idealistic person, he acts on the idea of doing damage for higher purpose than to deal with a drama queen. Sofia on the other hand is of course the drama queen but she used to be a great part in the literature of her husband and being secondary to that is a rejection of her love. As for the man himself, he is in the trickiest of situations every man has been in one way or other. Here instead of a parent, it is a friend of stern values. And the values are of course the first thing which got them together. These three are all lovely people showing their darkness of emotions in the film which as I said invites and scares simultaneously on this mad and sad little beautiful things called as love, marriage and values.