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A Late Quartet - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
A Late Quartet
Directing: C+
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B
Editing: C+

A Late Quartet is your grandmother's movie. That kind of sums it up. I don't think it was any coincidence that seated five empty seats to my right was a woman so old she needed headphones as an assisted listening device. I'm pretty sure I was the youngest person in that theatre by at least twenty years.

On the surface, this is about concert musicians, the quartet of the title: Peter (Christopher Walken), who is the oldest of the group and is now 25 years into this quartet after a good run in another quartet beforehand; Daniel (Mark Ivanir), who formed this quartet and convinced Peter to join way back when; Juliette (Catherine Keener), who evidently has a long-ago romantic history with Daniel; and Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is Juliette's husband. There's plenty of detail with regards to rehearsing and planning and scheduling for people such as these, leading the life of musicians. But instead of the sex and drugs of rock and roll, these guys trade the drugs for melodrama.

Peter is diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson's, and his wish is for the quartet to plan accordingly. He has a woman in mind. Near the end of the film, we do see this woman perform with the quartet -- and it's clear the person playing her, who has no lines, actually knows how to play. We never see a wide shot actually showing Christopher Walken playing his cello. It's a bit glaring considering the comparatively convincing shots of all three of the others all throughout the movie.

Robert wastes no time in expressing his opinion that he'd like to start alternating first and second violin with Daniel. He's spent 25 years playing second violin and he's convinced everyone, but especially Daniel, thinks Daniel is a better player than him. Robert, it turns out, is a rather petty guy. Juliette refuses to take his side and so he up and fucks a woman he jogs with. I don't know, that seems kind of excessive to me.

Robert and Juliette have a daughter, Alexandra (Imogen Poots), who is a budding musician in her own right and taking lessons from Daniel. She develops feelings for Daniel. Daniel resists for, well, one scene. Really? Really. They each in turn get to utter the line, "We're in love." Neither time does it seem all that believable. These things move a tad too fast, and much of it is due to sporadically inattentive editing.

There doesn't seem to be a very solid directorial vision here, beyond making what amounts to a soap opera among string instruments. The acting is solid all around, but it feels very much like director and co-writer Yaron Zilberman just somehow lucked out and got all these great actors in his employ by chance. Walken really plays against type here, being a truly mild-mannered man, and Keener seems to have a knack for picking mediocre movies in which her performance can rise above. Would that she could be great in a movie that is also great.

A Late Quartet squeaks by just above average on the strengths of its actors alone. It's not bad, but it's far from great. Someone could have made a story about people leading this kind of life a lot more interesting without just making them all either sleeping with each other or keeping secrets from each other.

(L-R) Mark Ivanir, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener harmonize in A LATE QUARTET.

Overall: B-
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