A Late Quartet

Could have done with more strings to its bow

A very late Danish release for last year’s A Late Quartet means that, for those who haven’t seen the film, this Christmas includes one of the best ensemble casts going.  This indie drama set in upper-middle-class New York is about an internationally renowned string quartet whose four members, for various reasons, have begun to disperse.

The catalyst is Christopher Walken’s elderly cellist Peter, who finds, after a check-up with his doctor, that he has symptoms of the debilitating Parkinson’s disease. On relaying this news to his three fellow musicians, he puts into motion a trickle-down domino effect that threatens to divide them after 25 years of performing together. 

The news touches each member differently and even affects the lives of those outside the quartet – those closest to them. The married couple Robert (Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette (Keener) have a young daughter (Poots), and Robert feels it’s an opportunity to make several changes, both professionally and at home. He’s tired of playing second fiddle (we learn this supposedly isn’t a hierarchical term) to Daniel (Ivanir), a fastidious stringaholic hell-bent on perfectionism.

After Robert floats the idea of a role reshuffle, both Daniel and Juliette are opposed to it and tensions inevitably increase as sides are taken and egos are wounded.

The performances from all four leads are impressive, with special honours going to Hoffman. This is the second time Hoffman and Keener have portrayed a married couple with similar relationship woes (Synecdoche, New York), and his vulnerability in the light of his wife’s indifference to him and his own marital transgressions is tangible.

There are a lot of worthwhile observations here, not least an insight into the workings of a professional outfit. Essentially it is a film that purports the importance of strong links in your chains while exploring the group dynamic of any creative collaboration.

This is pure Woody Allen territory, but without Woody’s invention or his lighter touch to resolve the conflicts with confidence, it instead resorts to cliché. What starts as a promising drama later degenerates, teetering on the edge of soap, which is a missed opportunity given the talent on board.

A Late Quartet (11)

Dir: Yaron Zilberman; US drama, 2012, 105 mins; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener

Premiered December 19
Playing in Grand Teatret