A Late Quartet | Movie review
The right quartet of actors makes a maudlin premise sing.
A musical group is only as good as its performers; the same could be said for an ensemble feature like Yaron Zilberman’s soapy yet ultimately moving drama about a troubled NYC string quartet. The cowriter-director has hired four very strong actors for what sounds, in synopsis, like a nightmare of a Lifetime movie: On the eve of the quartet’s 25th-anniversary season, cellist Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken) is diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which unleashes a host of resentments among the other members of the group. Second violinist Robert Gelbart (Philip Seymour Hoffman) sees an opportunity to finally move to first chair. His wife, Juliette (Catherine Keener), a violist, finds herself growing apart from both Robert and their college-age daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots). And taskmaster first-violinist Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir), wouldn’t you know, is falling for Alexandra, to whom he gives music lessons.
Infidelities occur, screaming matches are had, and languorous shots of a wintry Manhattan overemphasize the melancholy spirit afflicting the characters. Yet the four leads more often than not transcend the calculated moroseness; Ivanir is especially good as a man whose perfectionist facade masks a soul in perpetual turmoil. And Walken—having a banner year between this and Seven Psychopaths—makes the most of a humble climactic monologue that yokes all the movie’s maudlin elements into profound harmony.