“A Late Quartet” seems like it should be a gripping drama. But if I hadn’t been reviewing it, I would have turned off the film halfway through; that’s how bored I was. Classical music can be dry on its own, especially to those who haven’t studied it. And unfortunately this flick makes no attempt to engage a less initiated audience.
The movie centers on the members of a world-renowned string quartet comprised by actors Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Mark Ivanir. After their leader Peter (Walken) discovers that he has Parkinson’s disease, the group must make the difficult decision to break up or to find a replacement.
While they’re dealing with this dilemma, Robert (Hoffman) proposes that he take over as first violin, and is painfully shot down by his wife Juliette (Keener). Meanwhile Juliette and Robert’s daughter (Imogen Poots) chases after Daniel (Ivanir). All of these problems come to a head, forcing the quartet to decide if they should sort everything out and remain together, or if it’s time to call it quits.
The very narrow focus of the film would be a lot more acceptable, if it did justice the music. Even to the untrained eye, it’s very obvious that what the actors are playing on the instruments, doesn’t match up with what you’re hearing. The issue is exacerbated by the persistent use of wide shots, since you can see everything the person is doing. It’s clear that no one instructed the actors long enough on how to pantomime playing, because their bodies are rigid and their faces are blank. You can tell that they aren’t truly enjoying what they’re doing. Thus it’s hard for you to get excited with them.
What “A Late Quartet” does do well, is to show you the complex dynamics that occur when personal and professional relationships are intertwined in a musical group, particularly with clashing egos. But when it comes to the other dramatic conflicts, the filmmakers focus on the completely wrong issues. Instead of concentrating on the devastating effects of Parkinson’s on the lead member Peter, the movie decides to put more emphasis on sensational problems like marital troubles between Robert and Juliette, as well as the tawdry affair between the couple’s daughter and their band mate.
Due to the lack of significant character development, the drama in “A Late Quartet” lacks emotional punch, and disappointingly the one person (Walken) whose story should matter most, is neglected. All of the other characters’ issues are trivial by comparison, and all they’ll get from me is the world’s smallest violin playing for their troubles.