Starring: Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener
You may like this if you like: Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005), About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002), Quartet (Dustin Hoffman, 2012)
The Fugue are an extremely successful quartet that have been playing together in New York for 25 years. However when Cellist Peter (Walken) learns that he has Parkinson’s disease he realises that it is time to retire. This then sets off a catalyst for the other three members to revaluate both their roles in the quartet, but also their lives as previously repressed desires and feelings are now brought to the surface. Second Violinist Robert (Hoffman) decides he wants to sometimes play first violin, and his marriage to viola player Juliette (Keener) also comes under increased strain. Meanwhile first violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir) begins to teach Robert and Juliette’s daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots) and the two begin a passionate affair. As the quartet grow increasingly apart, it becomes increasingly unlikely the four of them will put behind them all their differences to play Beethoven’s Opus 131, a piece with nine movements to be played nonstop, for Peter’s final concert.
So, first we had Quartet and now we have A Late Quartet, while the former was a light hearted and touching grey pound pleaser, the latter is in my view a more series and unashamedly low key human drama. This is in my view a film with genuine heart and examines those little things in life that may not be important in the grand scheme of things, but to the individual they are a big deal. These are the little things that both make us human and make us all that little bit different.
One thing that immediately works in the favour of A Late Quartet is the undeniably strong cast, all four give excellent performances that make the admittedly quite often basic material feel poignant and compelling. Despite the slightly high brow setting, the four of them help to produce a very watchable and involving drama. This is most definitely an intelligent drama that demonstrates a thorough knowledge of Beethoven and classical music, yet manages to avoid pitfalls of smugness and pretentious that could potentially alienate many. The well to do snowy New York setting and the architecturally rich concert halls provide an effective setting but once again thankfully do not become to imposing or overdone. It would have been so easy to make a film which makes it hard to care about the minor problems of wealthy concert musicians, but yet thankfully this is a drama with its feet firmly rooted on the ground. Overall we are given four protagonists that we can associate with whether we are musicians or not.
The emotional involvement I was happy to make into these characters was mainly down to the acting. All four actors are on top form providing both the genuine heart needed to keep such a serious drama going along as well as appearing believable as world class musicians.
Admittedly some the narrative developments are a little contrived and as all the issues between the characters worsen there is very little resolution. Admittedly many of the issues of day to day life go fully unresolved, but in this case it feels more like lazy writing. Everything develops at a gentle pace; this gentle feel to proceedings perhaps taking the edge of everything. A stronger script may have given the film more edge and therefore more raw emotional power. Though there is poignancy to the (admittedly slightly cheesy) ending, there is also frustration as there is very little resolution to all what we have just invested 100 minutes of our time witnessing. I think that maybe the script could have done with a couple more re writes to produce a stronger, more well thought out script that is deserving of the effective production values and outstanding acting. This for me stops A Late Quartet being a truly exceptional drama that is as genuinely emotional as it obviously wants to be, but there is still enough there for it be watchable and involving.
A Late Quartet is a classy and delicately observed drama with exquisite acting and plenty of genuine heart. It is overall a compelling and involving watch, but is sadly a little too gentle and let down by a slightly contrived and basic script.