Film Review: A Late Quartet

A Late QuartetMidway through A Late Quartet, Christopher Walken’s character is teaching a music class during which he tells a story of an incident when he played a piece of classical music for one of his peers and thought he’d messed it up good and proper. However, the other musician told him that he’d done well and that it’s important to focus on the good stuff and leave the morons to pick on the faults. He may very well have been inviting the film’s audience to do the same as A Late Quartet does do some things well but it also has its very clear faults.

The films tells the story of a world-renowned string quartet comprising of cellist Peter (Christopher Walken), first violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir), second violinist Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and violist and Robert’s wife Juliette (Catherine Keener). However, when Peter is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and his future in the quartet becomes uncertain, the group’s professional and personal relationships become strained.

A Late Quartet is a film about classical music that isn’t really about classical music. Those hoping to delve into the world of Beethoven, Mozart et al will be somewhat disappointed as this is very much a character piece that relies on the dynamics between the characters and the performances of the actors. It’s a rather slow film with no discernible action to speak of, but it does very well to keep your attention, which enables you to invest in much of the plight the characters experience.

However, some story arcs are a lot stronger than others, and perhaps the most interesting is Walken’s Peter. He is the old master, the one that all of the others look up to and it genuinely feels like a hammer blow when he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Seeing him come to terms with the news and deteriorate as the film progresses is interesting but it’s something that ends up being on the film’s periphery. It is used as the catalyst for the other characters’ problems but it’s the most interesting story of the film and is not afforded enough attention. Robert is another engaging character and is superbly played by PSH, but his wife Juliette is much less interesting and feels very much like a weak link. Daniel is hot-headed, arrogant but undoubtedly talented but he’s a character who’s difficult to warm to and a relationship he develops with Robert and Juliette’s daughter feels contrived and a formulaic addition to an otherwise generally intelligent script.

Once you’ve bought into these characters’ lives (or some of them at least), the film delivers with an emotional climactic punch. It’s a little manipulative and it doesn’t really come as much of a surprise but it’s still satisfying enough. There was room for A Late Quartet to be something a little more than it ended up being. Some characters and storylines are stronger than others which leaves it feeling slightly uneven, but it’s still an engaging watch. Maybe only a moron would focus on the faults but when those faults prevent it from being as good as it potentially could have been, they’re worth mentioning.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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31 thoughts on “Film Review: A Late Quartet

  1. Nostra says:

    You liked it a lot more than I did. I just couldn’t get into it and found it very slow and boring….

  2. Nice write-up. I think i’ll avoid…I really dislike films that manipulate an emotional response from you. Like ‘I am Sam’. Blegh!

    • Thanks! It’s definitely not one I’d rush to go and see. It is a little manipulative but it kind of works, even though you see it coming a mile off. And yeah ‘I am Sam’ is the perfect example of that. Also, ‘The Impossible’.

  3. keith7198 says:

    Rock solid review. I’ve been interested in this one but just haven’t had the chance to see it. Seems like “quartet” movies are all the rage right now! 🙂

    • Haha, yeah you’re right! There have been a few of these ‘more mature’ ensemble cast movies around recently. This is worth a watch if you get chance but it would be fine as a rental too, nothing to go crazy for here. Thanks Keith!

  4. filmhipster says:

    Hey look, another film with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Is there a film he isn’t in? lol
    Great review Chris, I think I’ll pass on this one though.

  5. Gotta love Christopher Walken

  6. ruth says:

    Glad you get to see this film, Chris. I like your intro in your review, you’re right there’s flaws to be sure. I feel like some scenes between Daniel and Robert + Juliette’s daughter could’ve been handled better, as it felt rather awkward. But the performances are great overall, esp. Walken in an unlikely role, I mean he’s the most *normal* guy in the film, imagine that! 🙂 I like this enough that it ended up in my top 10 of the year.

  7. ckckred says:

    I haven’t seen this, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Christopher Walken are two of my favorite actors. I’ll try to check this out. Nice review.

  8. Dan says:

    One to watch for the performances I think. Love the cast so I’ll be checking this out as soon as I can.

  9. Popcorn Nights says:

    Good cast, and the world of classical music doesn’t put me off, seems quite an unusual area for a film so I will give it a watch. Glad to hear the performances are good – nice one Chris…hadn’t read a thing about this until just now!

    • Yeah it’s gone pretty unnoticed this one. I think it’s out over here this week but I’ve still hardly seen anything about it. I managed to get to a preview of it a couple of months back and it came out in America sometime last year, so no idea why it’s not had any promotion here. I look forward to your thoughts Stu if you do get around to seeing it.

  10. robbinsrealm says:

    I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award.

  11. sati says:

    Great review! I like Walken and Hoffman a lot, so this one has been on my watchlist for a while, I hope I’ll have the time to see it soon.

  12. Mark Walker says:

    Very fine review Chris. I’ve been looking forward to this one. I like character driven pieces like this and I’m a big fan of the cast members.

  13. dbmoviesblog says:

    Very good review. I do agree with you that some bits were not as strong. Somehow I was very impressed with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance, and a couple of scenes with him just blew me away. I also think that scenes of conflict were really realistic in the film, there was obviously attention to detail, and a sense of style present as well.

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