Keener and Walken make up an elegant, finely tuned ‘Late Quartet’
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
In its 25th year of playing together, a quartet falls into an uncharted territory of emotions when its cello player is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The career and life of the quartet comes to a halt as Peter the cello player, played by Christopher Walken, reveals that the first show of the quartet’s season will be his last if he is even able to perform it. Revolving around Beethoven’s “Opus 131,” the first concert marks the end of an era for the quartet. Walken’s character in A Late Quartet sets in motion a rollercoaster of events that almost mirrors that of a soap opera.
It may seem that Peter is meant to be the center of the film, but the film is more concerned with the members of the group and their respective lives as they are each affected by Peter’s disease. The diagnosis reveals the cracks and weaknesses of the erstwhile sterling group. Egoism, seduction, and jealousy flare as the time of the first concert approaches. Robert (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who is the second violinist of the quartet, tries to grasp the chance for more power in the quartet while trying to fix his relationship with his wife Juliette (Catherine Keener), who is the quartet’s viola player. Having met during the formation of the quartet, the star-crossed lovers start to lose their spark as Robert’s ego and flamenco-dancing mistress (Liraz Charhi) get in the way.
Daniel (Mark Ivanir) holds the leadership position in the quartet, as he possesses the all-important title of “first violinist.” Having formed the quartet, Daniel always seems to have the say in how everything unfolds for the group. But as Peter’s illness comes into the picture, it is the disease itself that begins to control the narrative. Daniel tries to hold the quartet together but finds himself frequently stopped by his personal problems. As Daniel holds private lessons for Robert and Juliette’s daughter Alexandria (Imogen Poots), emotions start to flare as the pair reveals itself to have more than just a teacher-student relationship.
Clueless about the rest of the quartet’s drama-filled lives, Peter tries to find a replacement cellist in the quartet. Despite the reluctance of his musical comrades, Peter discourages the discontinuation of the quartet after his departure.
Set in New York City, A Late Quartet reveals the intimate parts of the city’s art world. The film is set against numerous lush, eye-popping backdrops, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, and the homes of the characters of the films. The set design is striking as it conveys the different tones each character has—from a rebellious 20-year-old to an old, experienced cello player. The film opens the curtain to a new world that is not archetypal Hollywood.
A Late Quartet marks the first fictional motion picture for director Yaron Zilberman. His past work includes the revolutionary Waterworks, a documentary about Jewish swimmers during World War II. It may seem that a drama—especially one based on chamber music—would be uncharted territory for Zilberman, but his personal investment in the field of classical music provides some value for the film, particularly the soundtrack. For instance, Beethoven’s “Opus 131” is the basis of both the score and also the film itself.
Zilberman captures the emotion of the actors’ characters in the film but does not let it do justice with an interrupted story plot. The writers, including Zilberman and Seth Grossman, fail to keep the film’s interest in mind with cliche drama and, sometimes, awkward comedic moments. Zilberman and Grossman lose focus on the quartet’s conflicts with melodramatic moments. With a star-studded cast, the film at a glance would not seem to be a recipe for disaster, but with a plot and screenplay that are poorly executed, it would seem otherwise. A better sense of direction would have made the film mirror the masterpiece of Beethoven’s “Opus 131.”
Despite the lack of consistency, A Late Quartet opens minds to its viewers that not many modern day films have the ability to do. For those searching for a plot-driven film, look elsewhere. But for those seeking a new spin on otherwise ancient classical music, A Late Quartet may provide you with just what you’re looking for.