A movie with a strong focus on music may do one of the following: It may have a strong dramatic story about how important music is and how it affects us in everyday life; it may be a musical of many variations; or it may be a dramatic story that just uses music as a glue to fit everything together, but it is not about music itself. “A Late Quartet” best fits the last type in the list, although not exactly.
Christopher Walken plays Peter Mitchell, the leader of a somewhat popular music quartet. Alongside him are Robert and Juliette Gelbert (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener) and Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir). When the film opens, these four are friends, and their friendship continually gets to worsen like a snowfall effect after they hear disturbing news about Peter. Peter has just gotten word that he is in the beginning stages of Parkinson’s disease, and he wants the next concert that they have been planning to be his farewell concert. Recently, Robert has wanted to step up from second violinist and be first for a while, but he brought it up right after the depressing news, which in turns sets his own wife and Daniel against him. From there, members just begin hurting each other because they themselves are hurting, and it is very realistic. The main question is can this quartet get over their differences in time for Peter’s farewell concert?
While the movie does give off the feeling of trudging slowly, it does feel incredibly realistic. These are real life problems suffered by real life people all around the world. Males, females, old, young, gay, straight, black, white, rich, or poor…it has the ability of affecting us all, whether we are the ones with the disease, or the ones reacting to a friend or a loved one contracting it. It feels real and Christopher Walken does a very surprisingly well-done performance. You will believe him when he says he has found out that he has Parkinson’s. This is one of his best performances in a long time, and you will simply forget that this is Christopher Walken. That shows that the man has an acting range and doesn’t always have to be a parody of himself.
Also note that the rest of the crew was excellent as well. Phillip Seymour Hoffman has a long history of crowd-pleasing performances that are sure to expand as his experience continues. Catherine Keener is also a woman that has an impressive resume under her belt, and even Mark Ivanir was incredible. There wasn’t really a single performance that looked unfitting. Whether these actors actually grew up on different instruments or not, they certainly made us believe that they knew exactly what they were doing.
The movie wasn’t really about music itself as it was about how people react to troubling news, and how that can affect anyone, including families, in a negative fashion if not treated properly. We have seen this in so many movies that it is beginning to get old, but this movie did something that many overlook. It used an added element which not only switched things up, but had the opportunity to lock into the audiences senses. Many people have an emotional reaction to music, especially classical, so if that sounds like you…bring some tissues.
Just try to remember that this is a very laid back movie, even though stuff does happen. It just happens so slowly that many people may have a hard time keeping their eyes open while watching it. If you do watch it and get through it, you may find that it does in fact have quite a few important messages and that the actors did a remarkable job with their performances. You may have difficulty finding the desire to purchase this movie, but it really isn’t that hard to respect it for what it is.
“A Late Quartet” comes to Blu-Ray and DVD on Feb. 5!