Yesterday I finally got around to seeing The Last Station, and this much I know is true: If Helen Mirren hadn’t recently — and undeservedly, in my opinion — won an Academy Award for impersonating Elizabeth II in The Queen, if it weren’t for the unstoppable force of Oscar’s nature to occasionally award actors and actresses whose time has come, regardless of the performance in question (I’m talking about you, Sandra Bullock — and, possibly, you, too, Meryl Streep), and if we lived in a perfect world, Mirren, as Leo Tolstoy’s histerical, histrionic and doting (when she’s not pointing guns in his direction) wife Sofya, would be the one to beat on Oscar night.
And since we’re talking should-bes, James McAvoy, once again un-nominated for his role in a multiply nominated film, should have taken Morgan Freeman’s Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role slot. The best-acted Last Station scenes, besides the ones in which Mirren appears, are the ones in which McAvoy’s Valentin Bulgakov, presented as a sort of indecisive cipher who would have been utterly extraneous were it not for McAvoy’s precise characterization, is almost moved to tears by Tolstoy’s words.
Bawling on cue is one thing (actors and actresses in daytime do it all the time), but when Bulgakov eyes water up without tears actually flowing from them, it’s acting at its most nuanced and affecting.
My favorite scene, though, is the one that takes place near the end of the movie at the titular location. Sofya has come to see her estranged husband one last time but is cut off by her daughter Sasha (played by McAvoy’s real-life wife, Anne-Marie Duff) and Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), the ostensible villain of the story to Mirren’s flawed protagonist, though his intentions — for Tolstoy’s immortal words to be legally placed in the public domain after his death — are not entirely self-serving.
Sofya’s reaction is a rare case of blind rage being accompanied by the perfect cutting words. “And you are a stone-hearted bitch,” she spits at her daughter. “I lost five children. Why couldn’t one of them have been you?”
Even old Leo probably couldn’t have said it better himself!