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Parini Film Adaptation Makes Those NYC Arthouse Crowds Swoon


Published December 14, 2009 at 7:02 p.m.

Last February I reported that an all-star movie adaptation of Middlebury prof Jay Parini's novel The Last Station was in the works.

The finished film hit big-city theaters on December 4, and it's already been nominated for as many Spirit awards (for indie films) as Precious.

That's a lot of attention for a period piece about old folks, even if the old guy in question happens to be none other than Leo Tolstoy. It certainly helps that the movie features fiery performances from Christopher Plummer as the great writer, Helen Mirren as his wife (who isn't crazy about his new belief in celibacy), and James McAvoy and Paul Giamatti as his disciples, one of whom finds himself tempted by the delights of the flesh.

The Last Station has also inspired a flood of glowing reviews, which you can find here. David Denby of The New Yorker says it's "like a great night at the theatre — the two performing demons go at each other full tilt and produce scenes of Shakespearean affection, chagrin, and rage."

On the other end of the scale, A.O. Scott of the New York Times wrote a negative review that, fair or not, is pretty hilarious. Sample: "Mr. Plummer plays Tolstoy as a kind of volatile Russian Santa Claus. When he laughs, it is a great, lusty laugh. When he shouts, it is a deep, abdominal bellow. And when he capers around his bedroom clucking like a chicken, you can be sure you are witnessing a world-historical feat of poultry impersonation."

World-historical feat of poultry impersonation? OK, now I know I want to see this movie.

Question is, when will it make it to our provincial hinterlands? I think Tolstoy would want us non-cosmopolitans to view some fine cinema, too.