There are theories that certain films, like A LATE QUARTET, are made solely for the film festival crowds. That main stream audiences just will not spend the money to watch a film that is based on solid acting and emotional conflict. Many films never see the light of day outside an art-house theater. It is hard to argue that point and maybe it is fine with everyone involved. Reviews like this are a good reminder that many great movies get lost in the shuffle and a nudge to the reader to maybe branch out in their viewing selection.
The story follows four members of a string quartet who have been playing together for a few decades. They are like a family and as with most families they face issues and struggle with conflict, inferiority, and pain. When one of the members contracts a serious disease they try and pull it together for one final season. Mixed with beautiful music, award worthy acting, and strong emotional moments, A LATE QUARTET is a grand film and one that is a nice respite from the over abundance of Hollywood fluff.
Peter (Christopher Walken) is the aging Cellist wanting to go out quietly. Daniel (Mark Ivanir), the perfectionist first chair violinist, is the driving force behind the ensemble. Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette (Catherine Keener) are married which adds even more conflict as they balance careers and personal life. Robert has always had to play second violin to Daniel (literally) and this inferiority is creeping into his decision making elsewhere.
The film moves like a perfectly arrangement piece of music. There are slow beautiful moments that allow the characters to embrace their roles. Then there are aggressive scenes that play with a staccato punch. But all the elements compliment each other to make a perfect finale.
The acting in a film like this has to be perfect. Like a professional quartet if one person is off his or her game then the entire ensemble will crash and burn. In this film if even one actor over compensates or doesn’t accompany their fellow performer just right then it comes off as an overambitious emotional manipulation. Thankfully every note of dialogue is spot on. Hoffman continues to be one of the finest dramatic actors of our day. He can go from having a soft word and tear in his eye to a volatile outburst that is both real and convincing. Keener too was the perfect choice to mingle with this group of males. She has the poise and inner strength to succeed.
A Late Quartet is rated R for language and some sexuality. The sexuality/brief nudity is very brief and honestly unnecessary. The main reason for the rating is the adult themes and emotional levels that carry this film. It is made for an older audience who can appreciate the acting and be willing to ride the lulls of needed dialogue. It isn’t a perfect film and there are a few miscues in direction, editing and performance cutaways. But that is all window dressing and doesn’t take away from the expert performances. I give it 4 out of 5 rosin bags. Like watching a magnificent stage play on film.