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Movie Review: A Late Quartet

If you thought you never liked chamber music, put those thoughts aside for a couple of hours and see the new film A Late Quartet. After 25 years of worldwide fame, this quartet is coming to a crossroads. The cellist, whose wife died not too long ago, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which spells the end of his career. The husband-wife duo of second violin and viola are having relationship difficulties, and the first violinist refuses to relinquish any portion of his first-chair duties so that the second violist might have a chance to shine a bit.

Granted, A Late Quartet is not an action-packed blockbuster, but it does do a good job of getting into the workings of highly trained and talented professional musicians.

The cellist is Christopher Walken, in yet another excellent performance. For a change of pace, he’s not a zany or a psycho. His emotions are as controlled as his playing. If you’ve followed Walken’s career over the past thirty-or-so years, you know he can do just about anything.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener play the husband-wife duo. They have been married for about as long as they have made music together. They are the parents of a precocious twenty-something daughter who also aspires to be a violinist.  She is essayed by the age-appropriate 23-year-old British actress Imogen Poots, who has also appeared in American fare such as 28 Days Later and the remake of Fright Night. A capable performer, Poots resembles Kate Winslet in her early career. Mark Ivanir is a performer with lots of credits in series television, as well as having worked for directors Steven Speilberg in Schindler's List and Robert DeNiro in The Good Shepherd. In his first lead role he does justice to this proud, complex violinist. The role was originally scored for Ethan Hawke, but he had to bow out before production started. Ivanir was a good choice to fill the chair.

A couple of alumnae from David Lynch’s career are represented here. Cinematographer Frederick Elmes shot Lynch’s Wild at Heart and Blue Velvet, and composer Angelo Badalamente not only wrote the music for those two films, but also the haunting score for the TV series Twin Peaks.

As the first feature film for director Yaron Zilberman, it bodes well for his future behind the camera.

Probably the most impressive thing I noticed is how the principal actors seemed to be really playing their instruments. In the golden days of Hollywood, when speed was of the essence, very few performers worried about proper fingerings for notes, or breaths in the case of wind instruments. You can tell that Cornel Wilde or Robert Alda were not trained pianists. But in A Late Quartet, when these four are in performance scenes, they make you believe they are the great musicians they portray.

A Late Quartet is not going to win any Oscars, or have your friends and neighbors spreading the word that it’s a “must-see.”  But it is a good film with terrific music and excellent actors.

The R-rated A Late Quartet is now showing at the Esquire Theatre in Clifton.