The Movie Waffler New Release Review - A Late Quartet | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - A Late Quartet

Directed by: Yaron Zilberman
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir, Imogen Poots

A string quartet's relationship becomes tumultuous as a new concert season approaches.

Daniel (Ivanir), Peter (Walken), and married couple Robert (Hoffman) and Juliette (Keener) form ‘The Fugue Quartet’, New York’s most respected string quartet. With the quartet’s 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 the more complex expressions of his instrument. Robert is unhappy with, literally in this case, playing second fiddle 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 (Scarlet Johansson lookalike Poots), who rebels against her mother by conducting an affair with Daniel.
For first time director 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 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 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 and not just 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 some 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? All stale as June bread on an August picnic.
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!”