Interesting how 900-odd pages of printed words can hold you rapt for days and weeks – a lifetime even – while a movie about their creator – filled with sounds and sights, costumes and effects, speech and music – can’t even keep you occupied for two hours.
Imagine a production that has all the financing it needs, all the big name actors, composers, cinematographers… everything…save a plot, and…interesting dialogue. Here, you have The Last Station. There’s something quite pathetic about talented film stars having to mouth vacuous lines. Engaged they are in what seems like a desperate overcompensation; hopelessly struggling to augment and vitalize a pulse-less moribund script devoid of wit and depth; forcing themselves, it appears, to communicate what requires more than what they’re given; failing as a result, to convey with accuracy what we know resides in the real, complex world: real, complex emotion.
Lush, inviting camera-work, plaintive Windham Hillian pianos and oboes, evocative period sets, verdant, foggy landscapes, frilly costumes…none can save this film. I can only recommend ‘non-participation in and open resistance to its evils’.
Love, legacy, historiography, gaps between beliefs and practices, private and public domains. All themes ripe for exploration. The life-blood of Tolstoy’s work, treated anemically.
Tolstoyans devoting themselves to living lives Tolstoy espoused but never lived; to shaping legend from lie. The complex contradictions of love. Internecine scrapping over copyright and wills. Samovars, horse-drawn carriages, wood-chopping and virgin sex…all there, but dumb, unexplored. Nothing clever or profound, a thin storyline; all surface. Pond-scum.
James McAvoy is his usual twitish self, flustered, innocent, shy – welling up and sneezing splendidly on demand; (pass the pepper). Christopher Plummer at least looks the part. Sage and watery-eyed (more pepper). Helen Mirren, the wife, and Paul Giamatti, Tolstoy’s moustache-twisting buddy, throw a few decent shit-fits, and lots of mean glares, but they’re all pepper, no steak.
The Last Station is proof that despite all the technical accoutrements and human talent ‘money can buy’, without words on the page: dialogue – or at least some sort of advancing plot -: without good writers, all you have is histrionics.
This film though pleasing, at times to the eye, is mostly a boring, irritating waste of time; diametrically opposed to the experience of reading War and Peace. It does a disservice to its subject. Not even Kerry Condon’s breasts can save it.