Monday, November 12, 2012


The last couple of decades in the career of Christopher Walken can fairly be described as zany and screw-bally. Earlier this year, Walken, in his dramatic (and sometimes comedic) role in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, reminded us that he does have an Oscar on his shelf. Now, in the thick of Oscar season, Walken fires another reminder at us with a full-on dramatic performance in A LATE QUARTET.
A world-famous string quartet is heading into their 25th season. It was founded by Peter (Walken) and Daniel (Mark Ivanir), and includes Juliette (Catherine Keener) and her husband Robert (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). As they begin to plan a new tour after some time off while Peter mourned the death of his wife, Peter is then diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and decides that he will leave the group if he cannot physically play any longer.

A LATE QUARTET sets itself up as a one-man’s journey movie, seemingly ready to focus on Peter’s physical and emotional struggles as he copes with his new, debilitating disease which threatens to destroy everything he has worked so hard for. However, rookie director Yaron Zilberman keeps the theme of a quartet in mind, and shows us the ripple effects of Peter’s situation. Peter’s situation puts the group into drama usually seen in rock-bands; packed tightly with betrayal, extra-marital affairs, trust issues and the fear of an unknown future. What really works over and over is that each action by the characters leads to another situation, and long-time annoyances which have been simmering for years reach their boiling points.
Zilberman also keeps a musical theme cruising along just underneath all of the drama. The film’s title derives from one of Beethoven’s String Quartets (a piece of music the group struggles with playing throughout the film), which is a long piece which is meant to be played without pause. As one character explains, the instruments slowly go out of tune during the playing of the piece and the musicians must make the adjustments as the performance continues. The idea here is that the piece of music mirrors human relationships and how we adjust, and when it is all over, we tune back to where we need to be. It’s a bit of a heavy-handed metaphor, but it works.

The films performances are all outstanding, with everyone getting plenty of screentime and opportunity to flex their muscles, but it all belongs to Walken. He carries the pain and torment of a man near the end of life as he has known it perfectly, and he conveys the physical changes his disease brings along in heartbreaking and realistic ways. Catherine Keener and Phillip Seymour-Hoffman (two more Oscar nominees/winners) are also at the top of their game, but the show is nearly stolen by young Imogen Poots, who plays Juliette’s daughter who eventually has a love affair with Daniel. Poots is an emotional ball of flame, and shows that she has a very bright career ahead of her.
The third act sets itself up as a typical sports-film in the vein of rise-fall-rise again, but then reels itself back and dips its toes in reality for a bittersweet and proper ending. It overall shows its maturity with its storytelling and especially its acting performances. Walken owns the movie, but there is a lot more to enjoy in this quartet.


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