James McAvoy is in The Last Station and that is reason enough for me to recommend it. I find him one of the most enchanting actors to watch and it is a hard and fast rule of mine to see whatever he does. That being said, I was somewhat dissapointed with The Last Station.
I'll start by admitting that I know next to nothing about Tolstoy. My grandma bought me Anna Karenina a few years ago and I've been toting it around ever since, never quite brave enough to actually begin reading it. After seeing The Last Station, I know a bit more, but what of the film was true and what was fiction I cannot be sure (nor do I care to do any research to find out).
That's what The Last Station missed. Most biopics, especially those of artists, writers, poets, or other such people that I feel I ought to know about, inspire me to investigate further. Bright Star sent me flying to my Norton Anthology to reexamine the poems of Keats. Even lackluster biopics tend to have this effect on me - Little Ashes reminded me how much I loved Lorca in college and had me looking up the closest museum with any Dali work.
The Last Station didn't make me want to know more. I don't care about Tolstoy anyore than I ever have (and truthfully, that's not much). Christopher Plummer played him like Santa Clause, all smiles and good natured old guy charm. And while Helen Mirren was very good (and man is she pretty), she contriubted to the overall sense of Britishness that this cast exudes. If you said to me, "Name five things you know about Tolstoy" I might have been tapped out after saying, "He wrote War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and was Russian."
Finally, James McAvoy. His role in this reminded me slightly of his role in The Last King of Scotland. In both films, he is clearly the protagonist, although I would wager that if you asked someone what either film was about, they would neglect his characters entirely in their response.
There's a tendency, and it's one I don't much care for, to examine larger than life figures through the eyes of a bland bystandar. I'd be willing to bet people who did not see The Last King of Scotland haven't the faintest notion that James McAvoy was the lead (or even in it). Why? Why must he take these roles where he he's just a sounding board for men to claim their oscar nominations. I'm indignant on his part. He does a fine job of brining something to these characters - making them more than just the young naeive guy who is in awe of the oscar nominee - but why does his role even exist? The stories aren't about him even though they're about him. It's irritating. It's not a story of a young kid learning his hero isn't all he thought. Or learning his friendly dictator friend isn't so friendly. They're films about the hero and the dictator. I assume the idea is to make these figures accessable through an every man but that's dumb. It's a movie. These figures are accessable through Christopher Plummer and Forest Whitaker. I'd rather follow the people with the interesting lives than be forced to hang around the edges.
All that asside, James McAvoy really is brilliant. He does that thing where his eyes are full of tears but he doesn't actually cry in almost every role he plays. Seriously - look for it. One of these days he'll play the "figure" rather than the bystandar and then maybe he'll get more of the recognition he deserves. Until that day, I will remain his vocal champion.