DVD Review - A Late Quartet

There are tons of films about musicians. Most are stories about rock stars. There are a few about some of the major genres like R&B and country music. There are recent Oscar-winners like Crazy Heart, Walk the Line and Ray. You have movies about individual artists like I'm Not There (2007) or The Bodyguard (1992) or Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) and you have movies about music groups like The Doors (1991), Dreamgirls (2006) and The Runaways (2010). Throughout most of these movies, there are the usual tropes of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, the ups and downs therein.

Filmmaker Yaron Zilberman makes this film about four Classical musicians in New York City. There have been films about Classical musicians. Amadeus (1984) is probably one of the best. A lot of movies about Classical musicians typically focus on piano players like Roman Polanski's The Pianist (2002) or Ventura Pons' Food of Love (2002). I don't know that there's been many movies about string musicians.

If you think about all the members or sections of an orchestra, there are the percussion, the strings, the woodwinds and the brass. Woodwinds include clarinets or saxophones. The brass includes horns like the trumpet and the tuba. Brass has of course dominated the jazz scene. Numerous films about jazz artists have put faces to brass players, films like Clint Eastwood's Bird (1988) and Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues (1990).

A Late Quartet can now be added as putting a face or faces to the string section of the orchestra and the players in that section whom you might not normally get to know. The title is a reference to music composed by Beethoven, and while it's possible for a string musician to have a solo career, the quartet seems to be the preferred configuration. Again, most people might only encounter a Classical, string musician in an orchestra. Classical, string musicians exclude guitarists or banjo players, which are more associated with rock, country or folk music. The Classical, string musicians are mainly violinists, viola players and cellists. In fact, the quartet in this film is comprised of two violinists, one viola player and one cellist.

Christopher Walken plays Peter, the eldest member in the quartet and the one cellist. At the start, Peter gets diagnosed with a disease that forces him to announce that he'll be leaving the quartet. This announcement sends ripples throughout the other members of the quartet and it does effect and even change them or else motivates them to change. Meanwhile, Peter also deals with this disease pretty much on his own.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Robert, the second violinist. In the quartet, there are two violinists and strangely there is a hierarchy. Robert is second not horizontally. Robert is second vertically, meaning he's lower. He's not in the lead. The first violinist is the leader and that's what Robert wants to be, mainly because he's grown tired of the style and leadership of the current, first violinist.

Mark Ivanir plays Daniel, the current, first violinist and leader of the quartet. He resists Robert's suggestion that he changes the violin positions. Robert feels that the dynamic of the quartet will change when Peter leaves, so Robert sees an opportunity to shake things up. Yet, Daniel is very much into precision. He's a perfectionist. He writes detailed notes on his sheet music and doesn't like to vary or go off script.

Catherine Keener plays Juliette, the viola player and wife to Robert. She's also the mother of Robert's daughter, Alex, played by Imogen Poots (Solitary Man and Fright Night). Juliette is the one who takes Peter's announcement more personally than any other. It's realized that she's also very much a child to Peter. It seems that she's more this than anything else. When it comes to her other roles, she's somewhat lost.

Hoffman and Keener both were in the Oscar-winning Capote (2005) and again they're partnered but in a different relationship. Yet, the two again play off each other well. Hoffman sucks all the oxygen out of the room or somehow manages to steal a lot of the group scenes. I could say the same about his scenes solely opposite Keener, but Keener in a few instances pitches softly to him, knowing he's going to hit it out the park. She epitomizes the idea of "Best Supporting Actress."

Keener does shine in one particular scene, the scene where she legitimately tells him off, but often she bows to the other actors. You suspect that her character might be this way because of a love triangle or perhaps a sexual dalliance that she had. The existence of which possibly threatened the quartet, something which she values more than anything. Yet hers was a mere echo of the current dalliances that threaten the quartet.

One of which involves Daniel who, aside from leading the quartet, is also a violin and music teacher. Daniel begins to have an affair with one of his students. This relationship does threaten the quartet once it's revealed. Strangely, the affair occurs at all because of a conversation that Daniel has with Robert. Daniel is such a perfectionist and so into precision that the affair seems out of character.

Yet, this might be a theme that Zilberman is strumming. It's a theme that's appropriate for characters of this age. A Late Quartet finds its characters coming to things late in their lives. It might appear that these things are breaks or out of character but represent growth that naturally come often at the spurring of certain incidents or the pushing of certain barriers. There's so much more happening that unpeeling the layers would take awhile. The performances are all great and what is learned about these kinds of musicians is enlightening and as we see not that far off from other kinds of musicians.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and some sexuality.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.


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