Saturday, June 12, 2010

Helen Mirren, in The Last Station
approximately 36 minutes and 13 seconds
34% of the film

The film

A historical drama that illustrates Russian author Leo Tolstoy's struggle to balance fame and wealth with his commitment to a life devoid of material things.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

I found few things attractive, I didn’t like it, mostly due to my lack of passion for some of the men in this film: McAvoy, Giamatti. Who I found wonderful was Christopher Plummer, who gives a strong performance and makes the best out of an unbalanced screenplay.

Helen Mirren as Countess Sofya Tolstaya

The race for an Oscar nomination is sometimes more interesting than the race for the prize itself. We 90% knew Bullock was winning and – true – we had this possible line-up of 5 actresses for a while, but surprises do happen. And Helen Mirren clearly made the Oscar cut based on a few votes difference and some category confusion for actresses like Melanie Laurent. This nomination is a result of Dame Helen’s great popularity, of shaky competition, of some overacting voters trap and the biopic factor. I am sure few Academy members had actually bothered with The Last Station, which makes the nom even a greater achievement.

Helen Mirren plays Sofya Tolstaya, long-time wife of legendary Russian writer and mentor Leo Tolstoy. Sofya is somewhat of a drama queen, a smart stubborn woman who’d do anything to get her way: and what she wants is to stop her husband from giving away the copyright of his books to the Russian people. She despises Chekhov, friend of Tolstoy, whom she considers a freak and a negative influence. Hers is a showy role and a second-leading one, to McAvoy’s Bulgakov.

To Mirren’s credit, she gets that limited screentime (just 36 minutes!) and acts it so that you really do consider the countess as a leading character and maybe the driving force of the film. Her presence on screen benefits the movie and it’s obvious she’s a scene stealer. She has great chemistry with Plummer, but unfortunately there isn’t enough of the two of them. More scenes could’ve brought some bonus points to her performance.

Mirren plays the countess with a very young, lively spirit. She never lacks charisma and, considering the diva status of the character, is the most colourful presence of the cast. The Countess gets involved in all kinds of silly, exaggerated situations (spying on the balcony, breaking dishes, throwing herself into the pond) meant to give a more funny, light feel to the film. This works both ways for Helen:

On one side, it’s nice to show a bit of range and it’s entertaining to see her acting to her full divaness. The film is already stiff and dull due to McAvoy and especially Giamatti, so her craziness is a breath of fresh air. However – yes, however – she sometimes gets too relaxed and confident in such scenes. It’s like she’s on the stage acting in a farce and makes the acting wider and less believable. The main fault of course falls on the unbalanced screenplay which shifts tones a bit too often.

Some might not have a problem with these lighter scenes and just generally tag them as overacting. Because Mirren does overact, but, in those funny scenes, it looked to me more like… get ready: like she was having too much fun and didn’t take the role a bit more seriously. Having fun with a character is something I almost always applaud, but this time I’m feeling the other way around.

I am missing a deeper approach to the character, as there were scenes in which Mirren, just like the screenplay, treated the character or the scene a bit superficial. It’s this lack of subtlety that stops me from caring for this character or to find it relatable and so on. I don’t care what’s gonna happen to Countess Sofya and I was almost never moved by the performance (minus that final scene, which I won’t be spoiling now).

Is it prejudice directed at this performance because I generally saw it as category filler and nobody I know really enjoyed it? It might be, I sometimes get a bit influenced. I might’ve been looking for reasons not to like it, but what I am sure of: it’s a performance that didn’t move me and I didn’t relate to it. I usually go for overacting, but this time I won’t. Am I finally seeing clear and stepping away from Helen Mirren’s real life charms or am I too harsh and just wanna be in line with all those who said this is ignorable stuff? I have no idea: .

P.S.: I’m taking the final photos for this post, I might’ve been a bit too tough on Helen; she does have good acting moments, it’s just one of her best roles.


joe burns said...

I agree 100%. Before I saw it, I thought I would really hate it due to the overracting, but that wasn't the big problem for me. She never made her character feel real enough and that was mostly the script's fault. She'll come in fifth.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Ha, well of course I disagree. Helen was actually my second favourtie of the rather weak lineup but, I guess it is what is. Despite it issues, I like The Last Station more than half of the actual BP nominees.

Malcolm said...

After a long wait, here it is!

And your write-up is so great, Alex!

I guess her performance here (haven't seen her yet) is really written with OSCAR around it.

And would you have nominated Laurent in place of Mirren in the Best Actress race?

Alex in Movieland said...

Laurent will make my top 5 Supporting Actress, when I'll post it in about 2 weeks :)
so, yes...

anyway, not a great year for leading actresses. the men kicked ass.

dinasztie said...

I agree with Andrew. Mirren was truly great.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

The men kicked asses? Seriously? I mean the picks of the AMPAS were a bit skeezy but I thought the women were excellent last year.