Four sedate, super-civilized musicians are thrown into a pressure cooker in A Late Quartet, a drama whose measured veneer gives way to memorable and explosive moments. There are movies that seduce major actors with the prospect of becoming action figures, and then there are others that earn their world-class casts by providing scenes that remind actors why they became actors. A Late Quartet is the second kind of movie.
There’s a scene in which Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing a man who has had a spontaneous one-night stand with a woman, is in the process of nipping the affair in the bud. Suddenly his wife (Catherine Keener) walks up to their table, and the look on his face—the look of someone trying to seem like nothing is wrong—is so terrified that you feel physically transported into the actor’s body: the heart pounding, the stomach clenching, the fast breathing, the panic.
That’s amazing acting, and it’s one of several extraordinary scenes for Hoffman, who is not the only one brilliant here. Director Yaron Zilberman, in his first narrative feature, has directed his actors to a series of staggering moments, some restrained and some bravura. Imogen Poots, as a daughter who feels that her mother betrayed her in childhood, has a brief outburst of rage and grief that knocks you back in your seat and takes the air out of the room. What power coming out of that young actress.
Yet its quieter moments are just as pointed and just as effective, as when the senior member of the quartet (Christopher Walken) finds out in one of the movie’s first scenes that he probably has Parkinson’s disease. Walken lets you see it sink in and also lets you see to the extent that such a thing would not sink in, not all at once. Here’s a musician whose whole livelihood, as well as his professional identity, is tied into his ability to move his fingers.
The Parkinson’s diagnosis is the catalytic event, and with that the lives of the four musicians, who are world renowned, begin to break out of confinement and become messy. Passions are let loose—the long-held resentments, the unrealized ambitions, as well as the question that always comes up among people who have done one thing very well for many years: Do I keep doing it, or would I be just as good at something new?
In many ways, A Late Quartet is as civilized as its characters, which is not always an advantage. It’s a movie about mature, rational people, which limits the possibilities—things can’t get too crazy, after all. But for those willing to enter this world and pay attention, A Late Quartet provides distinct and uncommon satisfactions.
The seemingly exhausted gross-out comedy genre gets a strange temporary reprieve with This Is the End, an unlikable but weirdly compelling apocalyptic fantasy in which a bunch of young stars… more »
Characters are frequently urged to “release the beast” in The Purge, a high-concept home-invasion shocker set in a future where one night a year all crime is legal. But what… more »
The human brain is a marvelously suggestible organ.
With the right encouragement (or chemical assistance), we’re capable of seeing sex orgies in inkblots, ghosts in windows or a waistline 20… more »
There’s one key truth that separates the tank-topped gearheads of the Fast and Furious movies from the rest of us. Every problem these lugnuts face can be solved by doing… more »
Director JJ Abrams has followed up his sensational 2009 Star Trek reboot with a sparkling 3D sequel.
The core of the earlier film is present and correct: Chris Pine as… more »
Some audiences have trouble with experimental films. I have trouble with experimental films that aren’t experimental enough.
Truthfully, I prefer straight-up, linear narratives. Character, conflict, catharsis—you know, all those things… more »