Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Helen Mirren in The Last Station
Academy Award winner Helen Mirren received her fourth nomination for playing Countess Sofya Tolstoy, the stubborn and desperate wife of Lev Tolstoy, the author of the world-famous novels Anna Karenina and naturally War and Peace.
The Last Station is a rather interesting movie about the elder days of Sofya and Lev and of course their conflicts. Tolstoy wants to give the copyrights of his books to the Russian people, while Sofya wants her children to have them and she also want to get rid of Chertkhov (warning it's NOT Chekhov who died in 1904). I truly enjoyed this very underrated movie (I don't know why), which is not a masterpiece but it's of good quality and way better than The Blind Side or the overrated District 9. The actors give solid performances and Christopher Plummer deserved the nomination, even though he does not have the most baity role.
However, Helen Mirren (one of my absolute favorite actresses) has a very Oscary role, full of showy scenes. Still, he had as much chance of winning as she had of losing for The Queen. Most people see this nomination as some kind of a filler, which is mostly due to the fact in my opinion that her movie is largely unseen. I can only agree with the opinion that not many Academy members saw this movie. Needless to say, she can only be better than Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.
Mirren gives two kinds of performances: subtle ones (like The Queen or Gosford Park) or a bit over-the-top ones (like the miniseries Elizabeth I) and in The Last Station we can see an example of the latter. We first see Sofya getting up in the morning, going to her husband's room and lies next to him. We can instantly see this woman's pride and noblety, but Mirren also shows her desperation. Sofya cannot put up with rejection or contradiction, in a way she a bit like Sandra Bullock's character in The Blind Side. A woman who can control, however the fact that she's an aristocrat is the most important for her after her love for her husband.
We can instantly understand through Mirren's great acting, that the only truly important things for her are her husband and children and she never lets them down. She finds someone whom she can trust (the young man played by James McAvoy).
But again, this is a mostly loud performance with great outbreaks, which do not really annoy me, actually I even like them. Her breakdown during the dinner is excellent: Mirren knows when to do what and how. The screentime does not help her, however she uses every opportunity to show her brilliance. She's like Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People: when she's there she completely commands the screen, so you don't actually feel her small screentime.
I admit though that this performance can amaze only a small bunch of people (this does not mean that those who don't love it are totally stupid) as it's really the kind of acting that doesn't amaze everyone, probably the huge fans of Mirren and the lovers of Russian culture. I'm both, so it was easy for me, but I can completely understand those who don't like it.
So to sum up, this is a terrific performance which is unfortunately not for everyone (and this might be its biggest flaw), but still amazed me. I know I am alone with this opinon, but I loved this performance so badly because I did not expect it at all. The most pleasant surprise.