A Late Quartet


This film comes with strings attached

While Christopher Walken's award hopes were focused on Seven Psychopaths this year and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s on The Master, Yaron Zilberman’s elegant drama was left out in the cold this past gong-giving season.

Which is a shame, as both stars are as good as they have ever been in this involving story of a long-established string quartet whose future is imperiled when their eldest, Parkinson’s-afflicted member announces his intention to retire.

OK, so Chris and Phil aren’t the most credible classical musicians we’ve seen. Yet their oddball casting works in A Late Quartet’s favour, their committed playing bringing a resonance and gravitas to material that might otherwise feel precious.

Besides, the rarefied backdrop is only here to show up the baser passions on display: the sense of inadequacy that makes second violinist Robert (Hoffman) fiddle on violist spouse Juliette (Catherine Keener), or the buttoned-up passion that sends first chair Daniel (Mark Ivanir) into the bed of their headstrong daughter (Imogen Poots).

With Walken looking sadly on as the patriarchal cellist trying to keep the family together, the result is a surprisingly touching portrait of high art laid low by all too human frailties.

And while it is hard to believe that any ensemble could have lasted so long with so many unresolved tensions bubbling beneath the surface, there is a sense that there is something worth fighting for here - if only so we can hear more of the sweeping, Beethoven-fuelled soundtrack around which the action revolves.

From the wood-panelled concert halls where the four ply their trade to the snowy Central Park where Hoffman does his jogging, New York itself becomes a player in a film that is sure to be embraced by its discerning cognoscenti.

But even if the only movements you’re au fait with involve your limbs, that shouldn’t prevent you feeling in tune with the pleasures on offer.


The leads make sweet music in an affecting four-piece that, if not note perfect, plays well to their individual strengths. A marked improvement overall on this year’s other Quartet.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • GPaul

      Apr 17th 2013, 16:23


      This film, in my view, fails to realise its potential. That is a pity, because the acting and camera work are impressive. However, its focus looks uncertain. The plot turns upon the quartet leader Peter's (Christopher Walken) discovery that he has symptoms of Parkinson's Disease. So we might expect the film to explore the effects, both physical and psychological, of this revelation: he is faced with saying farewell to his art, like Shakespeare's Prospero. Instead it centres largely on the second violin - 'second fiddle' - Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his growing family crisis, due to extra-marital affairs and his daughter's relationship, of which he strongly disapproves. In some ways this part of the film smacks of a made-for-TV movie and even a run-of-the-mill soap opera. Christopher Walken is regrettably under-used. His character is almost consistently moving: lost for words at his diagnosis, shocked at the other players' outbreak of animosity, poignantly overwhelmed on the quartet's final appearance. He is relatively marginal, though. But the film does have another star: Ludwig van Beethoven, whose Opus 131 the quartet is preparing to perform. This is especially challenging for Peter as it must be played without pauses. Beethoven alone earns 'A Late Quartet' one star, but otherwise (in my view at least) it would only get two.

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