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Looking at the last days of world renowned writer and philosopher Count Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) (he wrote War and Peace y’know), newly appointed secretary Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy) is sent by one of the Count’s most devoted disciples Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) to work alongside him and monitor his work and turbulent family life with Tolstoy’s wife (Helen Mirren).

Soon Valentin discovers the battle being waged for the rights to Tolstoy’s work. His wife, Sofya Tolstaya is looking to retain her family's way of life after her husband's death and head of the Tolstoy movement, Vladimir Chertkov, wants to create an icon for the people and has used his relationship with Tolstoy to create a following.

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While trying to follow the writer's words and live a life devoted to his ideals, Valentin's outlook on life begins to change and he’s drawn deeper into the personal struggles of the Tolstoy family and the struggle to simply find love.

I’ll admit right now, I wasn’t expecting too much from this one, despite the big award nods recently. That said, it didn’t really take me long to get into the spirit of movie. The playful score and equally playful dialogue made what I predicted to be a stuffy period drama into a thoughtful and enjoyable look at not only a historic icon but his beliefs and ideals via the characters around him.

The brilliant screenplay makes everything feel so effortless. Large themes like religion, family and more importantly love are all discussed poetically by the characters and the politics of all of these subjects are woven into the characters' motivations and the events leading up to Tolstoy’s death. All of this is done in a way that puts a lot of these discussions in the watcher's hands, to attach their own thoughts and feelings on exactly what Tolstoy was trying to convey in his work.

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Also it has to be said that the entire cast are doing pretty stellar work. Plummer’s presence as the great writer adds a lot of weight to the importance of the character and those who gravitate around him are on equally fine form. Paul Giamatti is an actor I could watch in anything, he’s always on the money and here is no exception. Mirren really isn’t an actress I respond to normally, but her passionate performance was well spotted in awards season, same can be said for McAvoy (an actor that I usually write off as a poor man's Ewan McGregor) really had a lot to do with why I connected with the film and his subtle responses to events, especially towards the end of the film, really showed off his talents.

In a movie year that’s been lukewarm at best so far, this little film, that was pretty much off my radar, was a welcome surprise. Its playful nature and its discussions on love and life were a delight and as events get darker towards the end, the emotional kick of the movie works wonders.

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Despite there being a noticeable softness to the transfer and a level of detail that is slightly below average for HD, The Last Station still manages to look pretty good. Black levels are consistently deep and the natural lighting does wonders to sell the richness of the outdoors around the Tolstoy grounds.

Colours are a little muted with blues faring the best, either via the decoration of a set or McAvoy’s eyes (which sometimes seemed boosted when in contrast to the fairly pale surrounding of the interior scenes) and generally The Last Station’s look and style is captured well within this bright, clean transfer and even though it’ll win no awards it’s still a pleasant, reliable transfer that does all it needs to do.

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Well for starters, hats off to Sergey Yevtushenko for providing a great score that by the end of the movie really becomes a massive part of the emotional punch the story has. Thankfully the DTS-HD Master Audio track presents everything well and has a strong presence in both the playful first half and moving second half.

The track handles dialogue well and has a nice ambience, especially within the exterior scenes. Crickets chirp around the surround speakers, adding extra depth and the scribbling of pencils as characters are constantly noting down everything the iconic writer does or says also have a nice placement which makes it understandable when Mirren’s characters gets annoyed by the constant sound of it.

Other than that, there’s the odd steam train that rocks the bass a little and a handful of arguments that make things a little more dynamic but generally this is a quiet and subtle track that’s celebrating the great screenplay as opposed to audio attacks.

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'Interview with Michael Hoffman' (38:23 SD) is a fine complimentary piece to the movie (especially with the lack of a commentary). The director tells the entire story that led from reading the book the film is based on in 1989 through to the making of the movie as well as the differences between the two.

'Conversations on The Last Station' (44:19 SD) features interviews with the cast as well as on set footage from the shoot. It also features a bit more insight into the story from author of the book Jay Parini as well as assorted members of the crew. Really, this is more than a simple making of but more a bit of a historical insight merged with the making of the movie through the inputs from all involved.

Lastly there’s the film's trailer (02:10 SD)

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The Last Station was a delight to watch and even more so because it came as a surprise. 2010 is six months in and so far I’ve struggled to really get that excited about any of the movie releases I’ve seen. Because of that The Last Station sits quite proudly at the top end of year so far (trust me, its as much as a surprise to me) and I really hope that something else as well written, acted and thoughtful will arrive soon.

Disc wise, the video and audio both do good jobs without showing off too much and the features compliment the film nicely, so all in all this pleasant surprise offered up quite a lot.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.