You shouldn’t have much trouble renting copies of “The Last Station,” now available on DVD. The film boasts two Oscar nominees and a plot involving one the world’s most famous novelists—and hey! there’s even a little sex! and profanity! Still, I’m guessing that the recently released”R”-rated video won’t have people over 17 beating down the door or clogging the Netflix lists.
Which is not to say this isn’t a film worth seeing. Quite the contrary. The starring performances by veterans Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren alone make it worth price of a rental, as does the theme the movie explores. The central tension has to do with love and money, specifically the great writer’s last will. His wife, Countess Sofya (Mirren) begs, demands, and tries to seduce him into not leaving it to the movement that aims to promulgate and institute Tolstoy’s principles. These are being practiced at a communal farm near Tolstoy’s ancestral estate, where the Count toughs it out with servants, festive meals on the lawn, and a constant group of early-20th century paparazzi.
Opposed to her are the movement’s leader, Chertkov (the excellent Paul Giamatti), who openly confronts Sofya and tries to sway Tolstoy (Plummer) into signing a new will. Chertkov has instructed the Count’s newly-employed secretary, Valentin (James McAvoy), to spy on the goings-on at the estate and keep him informed. But since his room is at the commune, he meets and falls in love with Masha (Kerry Condon), another young devotee but one considerably wiser in the ways of the world than the virginal Valentin.
In the midst of the emotional turmoils, the imminent signing (or not) of the new will nicely poses the film’s central question: Is love rightly considered as an emotional/physical attraction between two people or as an abstract principle? If this sounds dry, director Michael Hoffman’s screenplay of Jay Parini’s novel makes it anything but. In particular, Mirren’s fleshing out of the emotional argument is com