From the director of nothing comes a subtle but impactful drama starring three Oscar heavyweights. A Late Quartet, about the emotional unraveling of a famous string quartet, is explosively delicious and features some of the better performances of the year, though some might find it simply quaint.
Peter (Christopher Walken), Daniel (Mark Ivanir), Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette (Catherine Keener) are approaching their 25th season together as a quartet when Peter, the group's bassist, reveals that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson's. Suddenly facing the prospect of replacing their most senior member - which will undoubtedly change their sound- Robert reveals that he would like to alternate as first violinist with Daniel. Juliette, who is also Robert's wife, doesn't think he's up to the task, and her assessment sends their marriage into a downward spiral. Their separation also brings to surface long repressed emotions in their daughter (Imogen Poots).
A Late Quartet is one of those little dramas that will either resonate right away or fade in obscurity, never to be seen again. No one may end up seeing it, but thanks to an intriguing premise and the collective performances, the movie is one of the pleasant surprises of the fall movie season.
The film is not as subtle nor as edgy as Doubt, a movie I bring up simply because it too had a story that was about how one small moment could send everything into disarray. And it also starred Philip Seymour Hoffman. A Late Quartet doesn't have the fierce dialogue or the combative nature of Doubt, but it's intriguing - even fun - to watch how the group is torn apart piece by piece and in increasingly rapid fashion as their balance and rhythm is thrown off kilter.
Christopher Walken is the best of the bunch, his nuanced, pained performance his second strong entry of the year (following Seven Psychopaths). Hoffman is terrific as always, as is Keener to a lesser extent. Ivanir and Poots also deliver fine performances, with Poots stealing the show in a few key moments as she is the only character who is permitted to truly explode on a visceral level.
As with any movie like this, some will find it too slow, others too dialogue heavy, but A Late Quartet is a worthy entry in this year's race. The movie may be from a director who has done nothing, but now he has done something. Something worth seeing.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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