Film Review: A Late Quartet

film review a late quartet, dvd roundup

Daniel (Mark Ivanir), Peter (Christopher Walken), and married couple Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette (Catherine Keener) form ‘The Fugue Quartet’, New York’s most respected string quartet. With their 25th anniversary approaching, a number of events conspire to tear the group apart.

Cello player Peter is diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, rendering his hands incapable of performing the more complex expressions of his instrument. Robert is unhappy with playing second fiddle( literally) to first violinist Daniel and falls out with Juliette when he forces her to admit she doesn’t think he has the skills to lead the quartet. Juliette herself is becoming increasingly estranged from her daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots), who rebels against her mother by conducting an affair with Daniel.

For first time director Yaron Zilberman, whose only previous credit is the 2004 swimming documentary ‘Watermarks’, the task of directing such a trio of acting heavyweights as Hoffman, Walken and Keener must have been a considerably intimidating one. The same can be said for the relatively unknown Ukrainian actor Mark Ivanir, the odd one out on a roster of top quality American acting talent. Both men hold their own admirably.

Casting an unknown for the part of Daniel was an inspired choice as his character, a Russian immigrant, is himself something of an outsider amongst the quartet. A familiar face in the role wouldn’t have conveyed this quite so convincingly. Equally impressive is the young English actress Imogen Poots, who gets some of the film’s most dramatic scenes. She may bear a physical resemblance to Scarlet Johansson but, unlike the American star, she can act. Hoffman and Keener are brilliant, as you would expect, but the standout is Walken, here allowed the opportunity to play a real character rather than a parody of himself.

Zilberman wisely gives his cast freedom, employing- what Spielberg refers to as, a “quiet camera”, eschewing any flashy camerawork. On this evidence, he’s a director of promise. Unfortunately, his script, co-written with Seth Grossman, lets him down. Every scenario on display feels like one we’ve seen countless times before. The musician who is slowly losing the use of his hands. The daughter who accuses her artist mother of not being around her enough during her childhood. The performer tortured by a lack of recognition of his talents.

While its story is nothing we haven’t seen before, the performances from its ensemble cast and some stunning work by legendary cinematographer Frederick Elmes make ‘A Late Quartet’ a worthwhile watch. As a scriptwriter though, Zilberman could heed the advice of that old musician’s joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!”

Upcoming DVDs

April/May sees some big new releases hitting the DVD shelves, including Oscar winners ‘Django Unchained’ (Best Screenplay, Quentin Tarantino, May 20th), ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (Best Actress, Jennifer Lawrence, April 1st), ‘Les Miserables’ (Best Supporting Actress, Anne Hathaway, May 13th) and ‘Life of Pi’ (Best Director, Ang Lee, April 29th). The first instalment of Peter Jackson’s three-part ‘The Hobbit’ also hits stores on April 8th.

Here are my top three DVD recommendations.

‘The Impossible’ (May 1st) – Based on the true story of a vacationing family separated by the 2004 Asian tsunami, this Spanish/U.K co-production never opts for cheap sentimentality, instead giving us a realistic portrayal of how people react to such tragedies.

‘Jack Reacher’ (April 22nd) – It flopped at the box office due to competition from ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘The Hobbit’ but Tom Cruise’s latest is an enjoyable old school thriller with some cracking set-pieces.

‘Quartet’ (May 1st) – Acclaimed actor Dustin Hoffman steps behind the camera for his directorial debut, a charming tale set in a retirement home for musicians.

By Eric Hillis