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With such a slam-dunk cast, and a wonderfully unusual screenplay, why doesn't A Late Quartet work better than it does...?
Fox / 105 Minutes / 2012 / Rated R / Street Date: February 5, 2013
A Late Quartet was fashioned to have its dramatic progression mirror a musical structure, and not necessarily a cinematic one. Director Yaron Zilberman definitely knows that there are certain motifs and functions that one must address when making a feature film, but this low-to-the-ground tale of four musicians and how they interact with one another starts to take on a feel of a call-and-response, almost an emotional fugue of sorts.
Unfortunately, this gamble doesn’t pay off thoroughly, but there are glimmers of arthouse glee fractured in various pockets of A Late Quartet’s anomalous shape. Thankfully, Zilberman was able to amass a high-profile cast who seemed game in attempting to work with the filmmaker’s unique direction, and unquestionably, without Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Mark Ivanir, the movie would likely crumble under the weight of its own pretense.
In short, the movie is about the changing of the guard. Walken’s character gets news that his health may soon become such an issue that he should probably quit as the de facto leader of his string quartet, which throws the dynamic of the gang into near disarray. Personal desires, egos, ties of loyalty – these interconnected facets of the musicians’ relationships all get pureed a bit, and A Late Quartet goes out of its way to focus on this.
Walken is particularly assured and instinctive in his performance in the film. Every now and again, a particular cadence or line of dialogue is enough to remind us that Walken is, after, Walken, but the Oscar-winning actor shies away from his iconic deadpan nature here in truly successful fashion. The other performers at work also bring fresh and heavy sensibilities to their characters, but A Late Quartet never comes to a full boil. It ends up being a fascinating cinematic experiment that almost works.