A Late Quartet is a riveting film about the lives of four musicians who are faced with uncertainty over their fates and how that uncertainty can influence their decisions. It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir, and Christopher Walken as the members of a longstanding quartet. Christopher Walken is given the news that he has the beginning stages of Parkinson’s disease. He has decided to leave the quartet at the beginning of the next season which sends the remaining group into a tailspin. Emotions run high and loyalties are tested as each of the members is forced to deal with their place in each others’ lives as well as in the quartet.
Philip Seymour Hoffman gives another master class in acting as Robert Gelbart. He is the second violinist who has become frustrated with what he feels is a second chair position in life. He is married to Juliette Gelbart (Catherine Keener) and his insecurities lead him to risk his marriage, his relationship with his daughter, and his musical career. The performance is astounding and Hoffman lets the consequences of every decision weigh in his mannerisms. He perfectly captures the restlessness of a man on the brink of a mundane existence.
Christopher Walken plays Peter Mitchell. He is the elder statesman of the group and has provided the backbone for many years. The news of Parkinson’s has thrust the lives of everyone else into turmoil and yet he accepts the news with grace and dignity. He has come to the time in his life where he must step back and let the world pass him by. Peter has an avid respect for the music and feels that trying to overstay his welcome would be betraying it. The quartet is his family and his legacy. Walken inhabits his character and breathes life into what could have been a melodramatic romp into scenery chewing territory. He downplays the tighter moments and acts with his eyes. In his performance you see a man who no longer is fighting for the spotlight and instead is content to tell stories and try to let his influence live on in those around him. Much like his character, Walken seems ready to deal with the uncertainty of his future with grace and imbue every role with as much as he can give it. He is brilliant here.
Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir round out the quartet and are wonderful complimentary pieces. Keener shines in her scenes where she is forced to reflect and must come to terms with not only how her situation affects herself but those around her as well. Ivanir plays the stoic and unemotional center of the quartet. He is obsessed with his playing and has long held emotional attachment at arms reach for fear of letting it interfere with his music. Ivanir does an incredible job of letting that emotion creep into the sides of his psyche and burst out when he least expects it.
A Late Quartet flew under the radar for me and I’m glad I got to catch up with it. It was suspenseful in all the right ways and showed how engaging a film can be when the script and acting are top notch. Seymour Hoffman again proves there is nothing he can’t do. From big budget action pieces like Mission Impossible to little indie darlings like this one, Hoffman brings a genuineness that few others could even attempt. The script is concise and allows the actors to bring a natural feel to the roles. They seem as if the’ve been playing music their whole lives. It was a joy to watch this film and let that music fill the air.