A LATE QUARTET
MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: *1/2 (out of 5)
Christopher Walken as PETER MITCHELL
Philip Seymour Hoffman as ROBERT GELBART
Catherine Keener as JULIETTE GELBART
Imogen Poots as ALEXANDRA GELBART
Mark Ivanir as DANIEL LERNER
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Yaron Zilberman
BY KEVIN CARR
While I’m not a trained musician, I dabbled a bit while I was in school. Not enough to reach any level of quality, but I did know quite a few people who lived, ate, slept and breathed music. I didn’t have the full interest for the depth of classical theory and minutia, but I saw it happening around me from one of my best friends whose father was the choir master at our church to my junior college roommate who was getting a master’s degree in composition.
So while I don’t have the full first-hand knowledge that makes “A Late Quartet” as interesting to some, I can surely appreciate it.
The story follows a string quartet who sees their cellist Peter (Christopher Walken) developing the early signs of Parkinson’s disease. The loss of control and fine motor skills forces him into retirement, and the remaining members struggle with various interpersonal issues as they see their decades-old collaboration come to a close. To exacerbate things, the two violinists Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette (Catherine Keener) are married but face infidelity issues. Their pretty, young daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots) starts to fall in love with the viola Daniel (Mark Ivanir).
At its heart, “A Late Quartet” is a basic human drama with interpersonal struggles that you’d see in almost any movie of this type. What makes it unique is that it’s set against the backdrop of the classical music scene, and the beats and movements in the plot mirror Beethoven’s Opus 131 in its tension and pacing.
One thing I learned from hanging out with my fair share of classical musicians while I was in college is that there’s a certain level of conceit that comes with the territory. It’s a fiercely competitive field, and the egos are huge. It is for this reason that I forgave a lot of the pretentious nature of the characters. If nothing else, “A Late Quartet” captures the reality of dealing with professional classical musicians.
The acting is the high point of this movie, which accounts for the unsuccessful award season push the film got at the end of 2012. While Hoffman and Keener play relatively common roles for themselves, it’s really nice to see Walken take on the role of the nice guy rather than the creepy or weird misfit. That’s risky casting, but it paid off.
Ivanir is at a disadvantage because he is less recognizable than the other three actors in the quartet, but he also brings a shrouded innocence and child-like wonder as his character engages in an affair with a woman much too young for him. He’s balanced nicely with Poots, though we’ve seen this character from her before, most notably in “Solitary Man” a few years back.
It’s clear that director Yaron Zilberman comes from a classical background, and that aforementioned conceit comes out in his directing. This is a bit of a turn-off, and the love of music pervades the film, though not always in the warmest and fuzziest of ways. I had a similar problem with Joe Wright’s “The Soloist,” though “A Late Quartet” is a better film than that.
The Blu-ray comes with only one special feature, which is a short featurette “Discord and Harmony: Creating A Late Quartet.” It’s a better-than-average look at the making of the film, though there could have been more meat to the bonus menu than just this.