Greetings again from the darkness. Have been hearing so much about the performances of Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren, that I couldn’t wait for this one to finally hit town. They are both nominated for Oscars (somehow, his first), though neither appear to be a front runner.
Based on Jay Parini’s novel, director Michael Hoffman (One Fine Day) brings us a look at the last year in the life of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, who wrote two of the finest of all-time (War and Peace, Anna Karenina). Unfortunately, I am not sure of the point of the film. We are provided a glimpse into the marital challenges faced by Tolstoy and Sofya, but more of the story seems to be devoted to the scheming of Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) who wants the copyrights turned over to the Russian society … he is a very strong believer in Tolstoy’s newfound disgust with personal possessions (among other things).
James McAvoy is hired to be Tolstoy’s personal assistant slash double agent. He is to report to Chertkov all that goes on, and in a twist, he is to report the same to Sofya, who fears that the “new will” shall leave she and the family destitute.
The first half of the film belongs to Plummer, who refuses to go overboard playing Tolstoy as the great man, not just great writer, that so many see him as. I doubt any of us today can really appreciate how this man was worshiped at the time, though the paparazzi and tears at the end give us some indication. The second half is Mirren’s as she copes with being shut out, while still in a lifelong love.
I would have preferred more insight into Tolstoy the man, rather than the Tolstoyan movement, of which I found little interest. We certainly get a more defined character in Chertkov, but the maturing of McAvoy’s character helps offset the harshness.