Culture: Film

A Late Quartet

A Late Quartet

A Late Quartet is not a sequel to the recent gentle British comedy drama Quartet, even if it does deal with music and in this case, a string Quartet. This very different creature is a class affair from start to finish and produces the best performance Christopher Walken has given in years.

Peter is a member of a String Quartet that have been touring the world for a good part of over 20 years. Recently widowed, he announces to his fellow members that he is to retire from the group at the end of this season when he finds he has the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. This triggers within the group a slow collapse, as hidden secrets, egos and affairs start to appear. Robert and Juliette, who met and married while in the group, find pressures on their marriage when Robert, the second violinist, wants to alternate to first and Juliette refuses to back him up. Daniel, the first violinist and creator of the group, starts an affair with Robert and Juliette’s daughter, Alexandra, while all the time, Peter, who has the most to lose, watches on like a wise old owl and wonders if they will ever reach playing the legendary Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14, opus 131.

Yaron Zilberman’s melodrama could have been heavy handed and over dramatic but thanks to the talented cast, it becomes an interesting character piece driven by the decisions of the four individuals. There are moments when it comes close to histrionics but it does manage to hold itself steady. There are ego clashes between Robert and Daniel, the marriage demise of Juliette and Robert and, the least interesting section, the affair between Daniel and Alexandra. At the centre of this is Peter, the glue between them all. It’s a pleasure to watch Walken, in a role you wouldn’t normally expect to see, showing that he is much more than just a gangster.

His is a subtle, beautifully observed performance which is gentle, humane and utterly heart-breaking. Although we aren’t forced into watching the slow collapse of a man due to the illness he has, and it could have been very easy just to concentrate on that, we dip into Peter’s life and we can see that he is looking at his friends from the outside, advising them, trying to guide them and then finally, delivering a powerhouse of a speech that will reduce you to tears. His is the most interesting of the four and definitely the most poignant.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who never fails to put in a good performance, does it again here, as a man who wants more than he can get, as Robert. Hoffman always makes his characters three-dimensional and it is no exception here. There is a moment in which you wonder to yourself, would that really happen, when he has a one-night stand with a beautiful Latin dancer but that aside, it’s another classic Hoffman role. Having the ever reliable Catherine Keener as his wife also helps. She is such a remarkably subtle actress who brings so much to her performances and most of the time she doesn’t even look like she is acting. Her role as Juliette is one full of sympathy, especially the scene in which she is told the truth by her daughter.

Mark Ivanir’s egomaniac Daniel is the weakest of the four roles and he is given the least exciting plot line that does feels very contrived. Not saying his performance isn’t good as the man who thinks he holds the group together but his affair with Alexandra (Imogen Poots) just doesn’t sit right with the rest of the film and that awkward feeling while watching it is the only bum note throughout this piece.

This quiet film might not pull in the biggest audience and it is one of those rare occasions where it gets a simultaneous cinematic and on demand release but it is a film that will stay with you long after it has finished, mainly for the amazing Christopher Walken, who always is excellent, but here he excels and I think it’s his best performance of his very long and illustrious career.

 Words: Stuart Wren

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