Review: A Late Quartet

A Late Quartet

A Late Quartet - Credit: Archant

The Fugue Quartet consists of four of the world's leading musicians, played by three of Hollywood's leading actors. The fourth is Mark Ivanir, who plays the cold, perfectionist lead violinist.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener are the married couple who are second violinist and viola respectively, while Christopher Walken is the cello player from the previous generation.

The question that keeps nagging at you is not what he is doing up there with the other three star names, but why any of them signed up for this staid little drama. The Fugue only plays the most challenging pieces – the ones which require their expert musicianship. Which makes you wonder why these expert actors would choose to apply their skills to these dull, over explicit lines and tired situations?

Perhaps humour is intended? Its structure often resembles mirthless farce as people fall out and realign behind each other's backs. There are certainly moments of unintended humour, most notably the onstage seduction of Seymour Hoffman by an attractive young Spanish Flamenco dancer.

The discovery that Walken's character, Peter, is facing the onset of Parkinson's and will be leaving the group is the prompt for the rest of the members to unleash all the resentments and discontent that have remained buried during their 25 years of success. The other three lash out at each other, while Walken remains serenely on the sidelines.

Ultimately, it is Walken who gives the film whatever quality he has. He's just turned 70, but is there a more watchable, endearing screen presence around? He moves now like Clint Eastwood playing Frankenstein's monster but with enormous grace and a benign glow. He has the least screen time of any of the main players (perhaps less even than Poots, who plays Hoffman and Keener's daughter), but you hang in waiting to see him again.

Why are there three stars at the top of the page?

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Because Walken talked me into it. He has an anecdote late on about meeting a great musician as a young man and, during it, he actually persuaded me to – if not like it – at least not dwell on the film's numerous flaws and just concentrate on the intermittent moments of pleasure it delivers.


Director: Yaron Zilberman

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Mark Ivanir and Imogen Poots

Length: 105 mins