As a string quartet approaches it’s 25th anniversary, one of their number falls ill, unleashing the tensions and resentments within the group.
A Late Quartet is yet another film about the perils of growing older and dealing with the things you lose, but unlike some of the recent elder-sploitation films we have seen recently, A Late Quartet addresses the issues with grace and tact.
The quartet is made up of Christopher Walken as Peter, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Robert, Mark Ivanir as Daniel and Catherine Keener as Juliette. The four have been playing together for 25 years, and it would seem that they know each other as well as they know themselves. However, as soon as Peter discloses he is battling Parkinson’s and may retire from playing, the dynamic of the group changes and tensions that were bubbling under begin to surface.
The cast of the film is impressive, and each of them gets their moment to shine. Hoffman and Keener’s characters are married, and the stress of their adult daughter moving out of home and starting a love affair is exacerbated by a drunken indiscretion. Both actors allow the relationship to ebb and flow, even though their characters are alternately fighting and defeated by the emotional trauma of their lives. Hoffman brings a world-weariness to Robert, but allows the character to genuinely wish for his glory days, when life and music excited him. Keener is a little more shrill, but her tensions with her daughter Alex (Imogen Poots) underline the struggles the character went through as she tried to balance being a musician and a mother.
As Peter, Christopher Walken is better than he has been for years. There is very little of the ‘Christopher Walken’ persona evident on screen; instead the actor allows the character’s struggle with a drastic change in his life to come to centre stage. Walken is subtle, but there is never any doubt at the turmoil his character suffers. As Daniel. Ivanir allows his character to go on a journey of self-discovery. He lets go and does what he wants to, for the first time in years, but the consequences are not quite what he expects. Ivanir plays Daniel as a man who is desperate to be in control of every aspect of his life.
Director and co-writer Yaron Zilberman has created a film that is almost as balanced as the piece of music the lead characters are striving to perform. Each character enhances the next and the crescendo of their ultimately selfish actions gives way to a strange calm. The characters are well fleshed out, and their stories believable, for the most part. The only story aspect that feels shoehorned in is Alex’s inappropriate and vaguely embarrassing love affair, but this still adds to the layers of tension that lead to the crescendo, so it is somewhat forgivable.
A Late Quartet is what Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet perhaps hoped to be. The performances are gentle but powerful and the emotional path the characters take is not so much about the destination, but the journey. A clever script and strong performances lend the film weight, and the themes that rise are those of compromise, collaboration and sometimes a whole really is greater than the sum of it’s parts.