There are the occasional films at the Oscar’s that you’ve never heard of, but they often belong to the foreign film category. Rarely (at least for me) is there a film that crops up in the best actor/actress category I’d never heard of, but in the case of the 2010 Oscar’s that happened twice—and with the same movie. Both stars Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren were nominated for Best Actor/Actress for The Last Station, a simultaneously low-budget film and small-release (fewer than four hundred theaters) film that earned fairly positive reviews from critics though usually only for the aforementioned actors performances. Releasing under the “Sony Pictures Classics” banner, The Last Station snuck its way past most of the general audience both in theaters as well as on DVD and Blu-ray when it released on June 22nd.
Academy Award® winner Helen Mirren (Best Actress, The Queen, 2006) and Christopher Plummer star in this compelling look at the final days of literary icon Leo Tolstoy. Having renounced his title and property, Tolstoy makes plans to donate his royalties to the Russian people, supported by his trusted disciple Chertkov (Paul Giamatti). Tolstoy’s outraged wife wages a one-woman war to challenge her husband’s outrageous act of idealism. Co-starring Golden Globe® nominee James McAvoy (Atonement) as the novelist’s worshipful assistant whose romance with a free-spirited young woman puts Tolstoy’s notion of ideal love to the ultimate test.
The only explanation I can conjure up is that I just assumed Mirren was nominated again for another terrific movie that I’d heard of in passing, so I kind of ignored the title for which she was nominated. Unfortunately for me, it was another period piece film that I would ultimately find myself nearly bored to tears with—I get the concept behind these films and I understand why they’re so popular, but it’s kind of a tedious outing to sit through one of these films or TV series (which oddly seem to always have Paul Giamatti in them for some reason) because they pack so much history into the thing that it feels like it overshadows the characters. At least here we get to see Plummer and Mirren really chew up the screen time they have together or with other cast members, so there is at least a pair of indelible performances to focus on.
On the other end of the film we have a kind of love affair thing going between James McAvoy and Kerry Condon, who make a nice couple on screen but it really kind of seems like a extraneous addition to the story considering it should focus more on Tolstoy’s life and not his employees or his fans. It is kind of a curious story we get here with so many people influencing Tolstoy’s final decisions in life and his eventual death is a truly saddening thing since it seems he was no longer in control of his estate or life by the end of it all.
The only thing that holds the film together as it transitions between acts is the acting, because that remains the only constant. It does get decidedly overblown and a bit melodramatic at times, but at the same time it has an endearing quality about it; however the film tends to drag on a bit too long (nearly two hours) so by the time we eventually descend upon Tolstoy’s demise it’s kind of a relief. It was a long and tedious journey up until that point and I can’t tell you how many times I looked at the clock wondering when it might end, only to find that I was only half an hour into the film. It’s a terrible feeling to have when you know the performances your watching are so fantastic, but it was marred by a molasses paced story that had very few redeeming elements for me.
In the end it’s a kind of love story wrapped up in a plot to ruin Tolstoy’s life and…I don’t really know what to take away from this film. Great performances wrapped up in a script of depression and lust, I suppose. There’s a market for that kind of storytelling, no doubt, but I’m sadly not part of its audience no matter how much I try to be. Worth a Rental just for the acting caliber displayed here.
Sony releases The Last Station to both Blu-ray and DVD, although for this review I’ll be going over the DVD release only. It arrives in a standard amaray style DVD case without any fancy inserts or anything; it has a fair share of extras although it’s certainly nothing that blows you away in terms of complexity or completeness. Video for this film looks clean and clear and what you’d expect from a modern production and the DD5.1 audio brings to life the sounds of…well, not much, really. It’s a dialogue driven film and it’s crystal clear for that at least. I suppose the only real elements that triggered surrounds or LFE activity were the trains, aside from the score of course which was wonderfully understated.
• Commentary with Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren
• Commentary with Director Michael Hoffman
• The Missed Station Outtakes
• Deleted Scenes
• A Tribute to Christopher Plummer
I’m of mixed feelings about the dual commentary tracks; while the Plummer and Mirren track is a pure delight to listen to, they are unable to offer much technical discussion or background into the filming process. For that we have to go with Hoffman’s track and while that’s littered with all the necessary information, it feels really redundant to have two separate tracks. In any case the remaining extras are a strange collection, with an actual outtake reel existing on the disc. It’s not a laugh-out-loud collection of bloopers, but it does remind you how hard it can be to deliver some of the scenes in the film without flubbing a line. The remaining deleted scenes are pretty superfluous and the tribute is a nice bonus (it’s the AFI special) as well.
Overall it’s a disc worth a Rental if you like the talent involved as it’s a decent mixture of their participation in the extras as well.
The Last Station is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.