Written & Directed by Michael Hoffman
First of all the movie was free. I had a free ticket pass from my moviewatchers and it expired soon, so I decided this was the best thing out to see. Because of this, and the fact that Plummer and Mirren are both nominated for their performances. I had no preconceived notions, I had no idea what the story was about other than a romance of the Tolstoy’s. And it turned out to be quite romantic indeed, but in more ways than I expected.
The film is filled with “powerhouse” performances and it really fits the bill as that type of movie that is more performance driven. Mirren and Plummer play the Countess and Count Tolstoy and basically have a shouting match throughout the entire film. They are entertaining and good, but I wish that they would have shown some restraint, I wish director Michael Hoffman had restrained them, because when they do go subtle, they nail it, and it is a beautiful thing. That being said, they both are great in the film, but I do not know if I would call them Oscar worthy, but I expected no less from such talented actors. Paul Giamatti, an actor on whom I have not passed judgment as of yet, on the other hand, seems wasted? That is not the word I want to use, but his character is just kind of boring, though if we are just supposed to hate him and nothing else, I guess Giamatti delivers. The true gold in this film, I found, was in James McAvoy and Kerry Condon. Their on screen romance is spectacular and had me interested the entire way through the film. This is a peculiar circumstance because James McAvoy’s real life wife, Anne-Marie Duff, also plays a role in the film, as the Tolstoy’s daughter. Despite this, McAvoy and Condon have tremendous chemistry and they play it much more subtly than the big hitters of the picture.
As I said, the story is basically a romance. Valentin (McAvoy) goes to Tolstoy as his new secretary, falls in with the other Tolstoyan followers, and also falls for Masha (Condon), the one Tolstoyan who does not necessarily like to always play by the rules. The dynamic between the two is beautiful, as is the tough, strained love of Sofya (Mirren) and Leo (Plummer). They come from different angles, but end in the same place, love. Love is a beautiful thing and it is the heart of the film and of the Tolstoyan movement. But like any movement that may be founded and based on noble principles and goals, those that take hold of it corrupt it and ruin it by forcing rules and not letting people be people within a working society. That is where Tolstoy himself and the beautiful Masha detract from the movement, that is where the beauty of the film comes from.
The film is not perfect; it has its moments where it may get boring or drag. The transition nature shots are somewhat unnecessary. But overall I would say the film is crafted quite well. The politics of the story are straining, and I definitely picked sides with the Countess and Valentin/Masha, but such is the nature of a situation like this. I do not know the actual history of the story, so I cannot comment on its accuracy. Though, as I said, the film is more performance driven, I found myself swept up sometimes by the story as well. Between the story, the performances, and the occasional great shot throughout the film, the romances are what set this film apart and make it worth seeing. Though seeing it by myself, and the hopeless romantic that I am, I could not help but feeling just a little lonely and a little jealous of the connections that the characters on screen had. Some day…