A Late Quartet
dir Yaron Zilberman
scr Seth Grossman, Yaron Zilberman
prd Vanessa Coifman, David Faigenblum, Emanuel Michael, Tamar Sela, Mandy Tagger, Yaron Zilberman
with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Mark Ivanir, Imogen Poots, Liraz Charhi, Wallace Shawn, Madhur Jaffrey, Megan McQuillan, Anne Sofie von Otter, Nina Lee, Pamela Quinn
release US 2.Nov.12, UK 1.Feb.13
12/US 1h45
A Late Quartet
Practice makes perfect: Ivanir, Hoffman, Walken and Keener

poots shawn jaffrey
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
A Late Quartet Nicely shot and edited, this intriguing drama tackles the complexities of long-term relationships in ways that challenge the solid cast. But it feels oddly superficial in its observations, and it's always ropey watching even the best actors in the world pretend to be world-class musicians.

The Fugue Quartet has been at the peak of their craft for 25 years, so when cellist Peter (Walken) is diagnosed with Parkinson's, everyone takes stock. Second violinist Robert (Hoffman) asks if he could occasionally take first chair now, but he's feeling unsupported by his viola player wife Juliette (Keener). And first violinist Daniel (Ivanir) wants to keep the status quo, even has his lessons with Robert and Juliette's prodigy daughter Alex (Poots) begin to shift unexpectedly towards romance. Can their long-term bond survive all of this?

It's entertainment to watch these actors circle around each other, although only Walken gets a role he can sink his teeth into. Free from his usual nuttiness, Walken finds lovely layers of humour and emotion in Peter's difficult personal journey. Hoffman, Keener and Ivanir also have dark feelings to play with, but their character trajectories are more scripted and melodramatic, with past peccadillos and incredibly bad decisions causing various storms in teacups. By contrast, Poots feels out of her depth in this display of Serious Acting.

Filmmaker Zilberman keeps the focus intimate, which keeps things engaging. But the premise insinuates that the past quarter-century has been effortless, as the quartet focussed on work and ignored everything else. So now, with the quartet on the brink of collapse, those buried problems gurgle to the surface. But this is hard to swallow, since these four larger-than-life geniuses would never suppress their frustrations. And if they did their group wouldn't have survived half this long.

There's also the problem of the music. It sounds gorgeous, and Zilberman clearly adores every note Beethoven wrote. But watching these actors mime to it is never convincing. When Nina Lee plays herself as a replacement for Peter, she attacks the cello like a pro, while Keener smiles beatifically beside her. This is indicative of the nagging artificiality that infuses the whole film, no matter how watchable it may be.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 31.Oct.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall