Friday, March 13, 2015

End of the Line

Film: The Last Station
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I find movies like The Last Station to be frustrating to write about. This is a film with a solid pedigree in terms of its cast, but a film where, a couple of hours after I watched it, I have no solid memory of what it was about. Oh, I know what it was about, of course, but it left almost no impression on me whatsoever.

The basic story of The Last Station is this: an aging writer is being told by a number of his protégés and hangers-on that he should rewrite his will to have the copyright of all of his work revert to the state and the people upon his death. His wife, naturally enough, is terribly concerned that this will leave her and her family completely destitute and with no way to make an income. There’s a lot of fighting and a lot of maneuvering amongst the various players and eventually the old guy dies. The end.

Okay, it’s a little more complicated than that because the old writer in question is Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) and the wife is Sofya (Helen Mirren), who is of nobility and is very much used to a particular station and level of comfort. The conflict essentially comes from Tolstoy’s conviction that he should live apart from creature comforts and from his general opposition to material wealth and materialism in general. Tolstoy is one of those people whose idealism is specifically caused by his vastly privileged position. He can envision living without wealth and comfort because he’s never had to.

Most of the conflict is between Sofya and everyone else, Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) in particular, who is adamant that Tolstoy give the rights of his work to the people in an effort to more or less enrich the world. Tolstoy, who is susceptible to having his own philosophy spouted back to him, is easily manipulated on this point despite the yeoman effort of Sofya to keep some measure of legacy for herself.

Also tossed into the mix is Valentin (James McAvoy), Tolstoy’s new personal secretary, and Dr. Dushan (John Sessions), Tolstoy’s personal physician. The people who espouse Tolstoy’s principles essentially eschew the idea of personal ownership of anything. There is also a preference for chastity, although this doesn’t for a moment stop Valentin from having a covert affair with Masha (Kerry Condon).

Eventually, the new will gets signed and the anger and feuding between Leo and Sofya becomes so intense that Tolstoy decides to leave his house and continue his work. And he eventually dies because he’s old and gets sick. And then the movie ends.

Ad really, that’s it. It’s close to two hours of people arguing about a will and a newly-minted couple sneaking off to have sex. I’m certain that there is probably also a close and careful look at the plight of the Russian peasantry. I honestly don’t know, because on the surface, this is just a story of an old writer trying to figure out what to do with his legacy.

It’s well acted. I’ll give it that but I can’t really say much else about it one way or the other. Talk to me in a month or two and I’ll doubt that I can remember that I had this film in the player, let alone spent almost two hours watching Tolstoy piss off his wife. I mean sure the cast is great and I suppose the performances are excellent as well, but who cares when the film itself is this dull?

Why to watch The Last Station: Great cast.
Why not to watch: There’s a movie here somewhere, maybe.

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