22 March 2013 | napierslogs
The powerful dynamics within a quartet
I was expecting "A Late Quartet" to rely on heady themes of classical musical. Before going into it, I did at least learn some of the emotions that are involved in Beethoven's Opus 131, and interestingly, that was probably enough. I still believe that music fans will get a lot out of it, but it's meant for fans of relationship dramas where the slightest word or indiscretion can do a number on the players' psyches.
The quartet is made up of cellist Peter (Christopher Walken), first violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir), second violinist Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette (Catherine Keener) on the viola. Peter has just developed Parkinson's disease and is contemplating leaving the quartet. He's the oldest and the de-facto/emotional leader of the group and he's the only one that seems to have matured past the maturity level of a teenager. That's an insult to the other characters, but it works to the benefit of the film.
Daniel as the first violinist is the musical leader. They look to him for which direction their quartet should go musically. Which leaves us with Robert and Juliette, a married couple. Robert has the ego of a leader and Juliette has the determination of a leader. Their emotional instability is set to wreak havoc on the success of the quartet as well as on the life of their daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots). There are affairs aplenty, passive aggressive snideness, violent outbursts of rage, and so many questionable decisions – on everybody's part. Daniel may be the leader, but depending where your sympathies lie he might also be the worst offender.
Above all else, "A Late Quartet" is an actor's film. Powerhouse performances from Hoffman and Ivanir; a fantastic powerful and sympathetic performance by Poots; and an emotionally strong performance by Keener. And somehow Walken fit in nicely in the more subtle and low- key role. Hoffman is funny when Robert's being passive aggressive, scary when he's mad, sympathetic when he's clueless, and incites our rage/passion when he's in the right. Keener manages to invoke the exact opposite responses through those emotions while Daniel walks the thin line between evil and sympathetic through all of his insidious and, at times, kindhearted moves.
To like this film you will need to be able to get invested in all the relationship dynamics going on. But if you're a fan of any of the five principal actors, that should be pretty easy. I'm in love with Philip Seymour Hoffman and while I didn't think it was possible to top his career best performance in "The Master" (2012), he just may have done that here.