Christopher Walken is a revelation in his latest film and our A Late Quartet review is going to start a Christopher Plummer in Beginners type campaign to get him nominated for Best Supporting Actor. The story of a string quartet marking their twenty-fifth anniversary is compelling on so many levels, but most of all due to the pitch perfect performance by the fictional quartet’s leader.
Walken is Peter Mitchell, the group’s cellist, who at the beginning of the film is returning to the group after a year sabbatical only to discover almost immediately that he has the early stages of Parkinson’s.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is Robert Gelbart and Catherine Keener is his wife Juliette. He is second violin and she plays viola while Mark Ivanir is lead violinist Daniel Lerner. The film, through an often seen documentary, gives us the history of the group and paints a landscape filled with enormous critical and commercial success. They are set to mark their twenty-fifth season with a new tour… until Mitchell's illness causes the group trouble.
That is not their only source of strain. The married couple are having problems and the lead violinist and his teaching of the Gelbarts' daughter (Imogen Poots) further complicates the quartet’s already being tested dynamic.
As a child brought up in the circles of performers such as those portrayed in A Late Quartet, Movie Fanatic finds it an impeccable job by director Yaron Zilberman and his co-screenwriter Seth Grossman in capturing that world.
It is masterfully established that Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131 is held as the holy grail of quartet performance pieces. Whether in Mitchell’s quartet class or in Lerner’s lessons with the Gelbarts' daughter, we learn that the master composer -- nearing the end of his life -- composed a piece that is to have all its movements performed without breaks. No tuning, no pause for audience applause… it must be played from beginning to end.
Through the grasping of excellence that is Beethoven’s prime quartet piece, the audience is given the parameters of this journey. After Mitchell announces his condition to his quartet, he declares that as the opening night of their farewell tour, he wants the group to perform it. Not only does it give Mitchell something to strive for as he starts his Parkinson’s treatment, but it sets the stage for a film finale that will leave you weeping with the joy that is classical music, but also the human emotions that make it so resonant.
And finally, Movie Fanatic calls on the Academy to take the time to witness the utter magic that is Walken in A Late Quartet. His performance is nothing short of a masterpiece.