Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
Germany/Russia/United Kingdom, 2009. Egoli Tossell Film, Zephyr Films, Egoli Tossell Film Halle, Production Center of Andrei Konchalovsky, SamFilm Produktion. Screenplay by Michael Hoffman, based on the novel by Jay Parini. Cinematography by Sebastian Edschmid. Produced by Bonnie Arnold, Chris Curling, Jens Meurer. Music by Sergei Yevtushenko. Production Design by Patrizia von Brandenstein. Costume Design by Monika Jacobs. Film Editing by Patricia Rommel. Academy Awards 2009. Golden Globe Awards 2009. Independent Spirit Awards 2009.
Nearing the end of his life, Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) is the most famous writer in the world and the pride of Russia, he and his wife Countess Sophia (Helen Mirren) so celebrated that photographers camp outside their country manor on a regular basis. Tolstoy’s philosophical writings have inspired a movement based on his tenets of equality and humility and a desire to live without material things, an attitude not shared by his aristocratic wife who abhors her husband for living below his station and is considering transferring all his works to public domain. Enter James McAvoy as a green newcomer in the Tolstoyan movement who is instructed by the author’s chief disciple (Paul Giamatti in a marvelously douchebaggy performance) to act as secretary for the literary legend and assist in the project to give Tolstoy to the world. Little do these men know that the resistance that they will receive from Tolstoy’s emotionally volatile (to say the least) wife will set things in directions that threaten to blow up not only a decades-long marriage, but the foundations of their movement itself. As we move towards the scribe’s final days, we hear the distant call of Russia’s future change as an empire falls and a new regime takes over. Director Michael Hoffman’s tribute to this marvelous artist and his fascinating life has everything you could want in one evening of entertainment: romance, laughter, drama and tears, and combines them all with impressive ease. Mirren and Plummer make an electrifying duo on camera, he pious and passionate and she constantly hitting shrill emotional highs before begging to be forgiven for her lack of self-control. Watching these two operate on all cylinders blasting is an orgasmically good experience, and they are supported exceptionally well by the rest of the cast: McAvoy is sincere to a defiantly sympathetic degree, and Kerry Condon is deliciously ripe as the object of his (anti-Tolstoyan) sexual affection.