Review: A Late Quartet
PLOT: When one of the members of a world-renowned instrumental quartet learns he is developing Parkinson’s disease, he decides to retire. After his announcement, the four musicians find themselves struggling to make sense of not only their professional lives, but their personal drama as well.
Director Yamon Zilberman’s offering A LATE QUARTET plays out much like the film’s heart – its music. The story of a world renowned quartet flows with occasional moments of dramatic prose. Sometimes it crescendos into something truly beautiful, while others it merely plays on until the next sequence. The real glimmer comes from a fantastic ensemble cast including Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir.
The story begins elegantly enough as husband and wife Robert and Juliet (Hoffman and Keener), their friend Peter (Walken) and Daniel (Ivanir) gather on-stage to play in front of a large audience. The quartet has spent much of their lives together, yet things soon begin to fall apart with cellist Peter is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Realizing full well that his health will not bode well for the group, he decides that he will have to give up his position. After his diagnosis, they begin to fall apart musically as they find that their personal lives seem to be collapsing as well. Relations get especially complicated when Robert and Juliet’s daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots who is terrific here as well) begins a relationship with the much older Daniel.
You could easily describe A LATE QUARTET as a soap opera set in the world of music. However Zilberman – who also co-wrote the script with Seth Grossman – keeps things sufficiently grounded. The themes of old age and adultery, May-December romance and betrayal are all used effectively, even if the story itself occasionally gets bogged down with pretension. And at times, the many sub-plots slightly meander their way through the story. It can also be hard to connect with these characters who are self-involved and egocentric because at times they are far from sympathetic.
Thankfully, this very impressive cast is able to give life to the sometimes cold musicians. Since the actors learned to actually play the instruments, they are able to inject passion into not only the music, but their performances as well. It is especially nice to see Christopher Walken in such an honest and compelling role. As Peter he is the heart and soul of the film. In one particularly powerful scene, he growls at his friends when he finds out about their terrible predicaments. He is simply perfect in A LATE QUARTET. With this, and his work in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, Walken has given life to two of this year’s most fascinating characters.
While QUARTET can be a sometimes tedious affair, there is just too much to enjoy thanks to a fine ensemble cast, visually effective direction and cinematography, and of course there is the music. Walken especially gives one of the most magnificent performances of the year. If you are a fan of classical music – even if you aren’t – it is hard not to be taken in by the film’s soundtrack. For me it would be very difficult to tell you the difference between Beethoven and Bach, however the score here is extremely affecting. Of course if the music didn’t work in this sort of film, there would be no use in watching. QUARTET can certainly be a moving and profoundly heartfelt work that may be worth the price of admission.