The title A Late Quartet is as semi-ambiguous as the plot of the movie, referring not to the timing of a quartet’s arrival, nor to a recent death, but rather a piece for a string quartet written in the twilight years of a composer’s career – in this case Beethoven’s Op.131 – String Quartet No 14 in C-sharp minor.
The piece is to form the crux of the central “Fugue Quartet”’s performances in the upcoming season, until the Fugue’s Cellist, Peter (Christopher Walken), informs the group that he has Parkinson’s and thus their first performance of the season will be his last. The story then follows the members of the quartet as they deal with the crisis facing the Fugue, which has been a constant in all of their lives for the past 25 years.
Director & co-Writer Yaron Zilberman gets good performances from great actors, with none of the stellar cast really outshining the others, in keeping with the central theme of the four being greater than the sum of their parts. Walken is as beguiling as ever as Peter, whose understated anguish at the trappings of his age and what his condition is doing to those he holds dear gives a human underpinning to the rest of the story. The Gelbart family – Juliette (Catherine Keener) the viola player, her husband, Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) the 2nd violin and their daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots), a violin student, give the most memorable performances of some classic tropes.
Seymour Hoffman is bombastic as the oft-overlooked, dependable husband, father and 2nd chair seeking to gain the recognition he feels he deserves. Poots is hot property in Hollywood at the moment, and her performance as the precocious, attention-seeking daughter of two absentee artists fully justifies the hype surrounding the young Brit, shining in a role that could easily have been sidelined by the strength and experience of the cast around her. Keener gives a strong turn as the mother and wife struggling to keep her two families together in the face of massive upheaval, but, along with Walken, is left out of most of the scenes of great entertainment, of which there are a standout few.
Rounding out the foursome is the controlling, enigmatic and brilliant 1st Violin Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir). Daniel is the other side of the coin from Robert, his fellow violinist – where Robert has taken a creative backseat for his family and a seat at the top table, Daniel finds himself at the top of the world, with nothing but his talent. Ivanir is perfectly intense and perfectionist in the role, adding a sheen of believability to the whole affair, highlighting the dedication required of chamber musicians to reach their zenith as these characters have.
Overall, A Late Quartet is a touching and interesting study of human relationships, ably performed by some fantastic actors. It is by no means a must watch, but nonetheless an entertaining way to spend a few hours.