Nov 8, 2012
A Late Quartet
I could hear Christopher Walken recite the phone book and die a happy woman. It is wonderful to see him playing a character who is not a gangster or a parody of himself. Here, he plays a cellist in a string quartet who learns he has Parkinson's and decides to retire. The loss of his quiet authority wreaks havoc on the lives of the other members of the group, a splendid cast comprised of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir. Walken has always been a great actor, and he proves it with his performance here: a dignified, bewildered, mournful music professor, a recent widower, and a mensch. In lesser hands the story could be an obvious melodrama, but it is quite well written by Seth Grossman and Yaron Zilberman, and skillfully directed by Zilberman.
Beneath their rarefied veneer, these people have ego trips, insecurities and emotional needs like everybody else. The actors all anchor the drama in compelling human behavior. Seymour Hoffman never ceases to amaze with his capacity for creating realistic, multilayered characters. He plays, literally, the second fiddle, and he is tired of it. He wants to become first violin even though everyone agrees he's not right for the role. His pride is deeply hurt and he just keeps making things worse for everybody, but the writers give him a saving grace. He wants the group to take creative risks, to get out of their well oiled perfection demanded by the obsessive first violin (Mark Ivanir). Hoffman is married to Keener, whom he loves deeply and unrequitedly. She is great, as is Imogen Poots, who plays their gifted daughter, also a musician, spoiled by her parents and deeply resentful of having to compete with their professional lives. Some of the plot is predictable, but somehow the well structured story has room for some surprises. This classical music world is beautifully photographed by Frederick Elmes with a rich, warm palette. Tasteful yet emotionally credible, A Late Quartet is a very satisfying film.