Koch on Film


By Ed Koch

“The Last Station” (+)

With all of its faults, this movie will satisfy even those only slightly familiar with the works of Leo Tolstoy and the time in which he lived.

The script, I believe, is an historical rendering of Tolstoy’s last years.  He was a presence in the era of the last Russian Czar, Nicholas II, and he became a symbol of freedom during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union when his house, a museum at the time, was captured and vandalized by the Nazi armies.

Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) was married to Countess Sofya Tolstoy (Helen Mirren) — a much younger woman who suffered from his loss of sexual desire.  Tolstoy became a cult figure as a pacifist and opponent of the church.  To the consternation of Countess Sofya, the leading figure supporting that cult, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) got Tolstoy to sign over to the cult the copyrights for his monumental books — including “War and Peace.” This deprived the Countess of enormous riches from sales of his books.  Another character in the film is Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy), who became Tolstoy’s secretary and a spy for Chertkov.

The first half of the movie is extremely slow. The action escalates during the second half of the picture when, in an effort to create a new life for himself and escape the clutches of the Countess, Tolstoy leaves her.  He becomes very ill while traveling on a train, and the Russian press gathers at a railroad station as he deteriorates.

This movie carefully depicts an era with great attention to detail and local color, and the performances of the actors are excellent.  Those looking for another “Dr. Zhivago” spectacular will be disappointed.  Those interested in Tolstoy’s life will be pleased.  At 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon at the Angelika Film Center, the show was almost sold out.

Rated R. 112 minutes. Currently screening at Angelika Film Center (18 West Houston St., at Mercer St.). Call 212-995-2000.