Philip Seymour Hoffman is considered a leading contender for an Oscar nomination this year for his performance in The Master. But he’s also appearing in a modest film that shows him and costars Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, and Mark Ivanir at their best: A Late Quartet.
Director and co-writer Yaron Zilberman has created a compelling portrait of a world-class string quartet. These four musicians, who work together as a tightly-integrated unit, have thrived for a quarter century, but the relationship is beginning to show signs of stress. The problem is accelerated by a health crisis faced by its oldest member, played by the recently widowed Walken. This exacerbates other long-simmering issues among the four partners—including Hoffman and Keener, who are married.
For their daughter, played by Imogen Poots, the quartet’s success has been a mixed blessing. It has robbed her of her mother’s time and attention, yet as a budding musician herself, she has nothing but admiration for the work.
Some of the plot points in the screenplay by Zilberman and Seth Grossman seem manufactured, I must admit, but I’m willing to cut the film some slack because the dynamics of the quartet, and the concept of their interdependence, are consistently intriguing. Each performer has an opportunity to capture the spotlight; for Walken, there’s a memorable scene in which he tells his students about an experience he had with a musical master when he was a young man. That moment alone is worth the price of admission.
It’s a treat—no, a privilege—to watch these superlative actors at work. They’re even convincing when they’re “playing” their instruments, although the actual music was dubbed by the Brentano String Quartet. A Late Quartet may not be a great movie, but it’s a good one, and with this cast in top form, that’s certainly good enough.