A Histrionic Historical: Tolstoy film premieres in Boise 

The Last Station Chronicles Tolstoy's fitful final days

Last Station (R)

Directed by Michael Hoffman

Stars Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti

Opens Friday, Feb. 19, at The Flicks

Leo Tolstoy may best be remembered as a titan of Russian literature, author of such epic--and abridgement-inviting--works as Anna Karenina and War and Peace. But by the turn of the 19th century, inheritance-moneyed Tolstoy had become a religious revolutionary, eschewing private property and exemplifying the ideals of chastity and simplicity. The Last Station, based on the 1990 novel by Jay Parini and filmed by Boise-based director Michael Hoffman (One Fine Day, The Emperor's Club), recounts the tempestuous terminal months of Tolstoy's life.

Valentin (James McAvoy) is a young Tolstoyan, a sect dedicated to the author's ideas about society and Christianity. He is recruited by the movement's head hoo-hah Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) to act as Tolstoy's (Christopher Plummer) personal secretary and as Chertkov's personal spy. Countess Sofya Tolstoy (Helen Mirren), the writer's wife of 48 years, does not share her husband's passion for puritanical asceticism. And while Chertkov urges Tolstoy to pass ownership of his writings into the public domain, Sofya struggles to preserve her children's inheritance. The Tolstoys, despite years of wedded bliss, find themselves in ferocious fights, observed both by the press, who constantly linger outside, and by Valentin, who secretly sympathizes with Sofya. Valentin's own commitment to chastity is compromised by his attraction to the aggressive and alluring Masha (Kerry Condon), another young Tolstoyan who isn't on board with all the movement's tenets.

Writer/director Hoffman, a graduate of Boise State and the university's first Rhodes Scholar, isn't afraid to approach theatrical stories. A co-founder of Idaho Shakespeare Festival and intermittent Boise Contemporary Theater director--he most recently helmed Samuel Beckett's esoteric play Waiting for Godot--Hoffman presents a screenplay with a meaty melodrama, and the push-me-pull-you power struggles waged over Valentin's loyalty in a three-way theatrical tableau. Plummer and Mirren, each in an Oscar-nominated role, are perfectly cast, their bitter bickerings stemming from the same passion that sparks their love. Playing the reverse of her restrained turn in 2006's The Queen, Mirren's stunning showing as the exaggerated, desperate Sofya is a fascinating counterpoint to Plummer's restraint. As usual, McAvoy delivers a strong performance, while Giamatti ably suits up as the film's villain.

Aided by cinematographer Sebastian Edschmid and composer Sergei Yevtushenko, Hoffman has created a moving, elegiac drama that captures all the infuriating, agonizing emotions of infatuation and enduring love. With spectacular performances, glissando camerawork and a superlative screenplay, The Last Station is a deft depiction of Tolstoy's embattled ending.

Opening Friday, Feb. 19, at the Flicks, the film will be screened Thursday, Feb. 18, at the Egyptian with a premiere benefitting both BCT and the Agency for New Americans.

"Theater's really my first love," says Hoffman, who will be in attendance Thursday evening. "It's what I thought I would do. I wanted to be an actor."

After his son began a soccer camp for area refugees, Hoffman saw a need to support the ANA, which helps integrate resettled families into American culture.

"Boise is seen as sort of a soft-landing for refugees. But the burden is immense on the agency for supplying housing, for matching them up with jobs."

The event isn't simply a fundraiser, but an opportunity for Hoffman to reconnect with his hometown after months away on set.

"I always want to have a premiere event here because I care a lot about this town." he says. "I feel like [Boise has] given me a tremendous amount, and I want to always be conscious of maintaining that connection."

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