Academy Awardr Winners Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman strike all the right chords with Academy Awardr Nominee Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir in this powerful story that blends raw emotion with fiery passion to form an unforgettable cinematic masterpiece. After 25 years together, the members of a world-renowned string quartet learn that their beloved cellist (Walken) may soon be forced to retire. But the news stirs up equally painful challenges when competing egos, harbored resentment, and irrepressible lust threaten to derail the group as they struggle to maintain harmony in their music - and their lives.
By focusing on the dynamics of a string quartet, writer-director Yaron Zilberman's A Late Quartet ends up playing like a family portrait, with Christopher Walken's Peter as the father figure. Older than his partners by three decades, he's been working with them for 25 years, but their future comes into question when he receives a devastating diagnosis. While his motor skills remain intact, Peter decides to play one more concert before bowing out (in flashbacks, opera singer Anne Sofie von Otter plays his late wife). As they prepare for their final season, he continues to teach a class that includes Alexandra (Imogen Poots), the resentful daughter of Juliette (Catherine Keener) and Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman), whose relationship has been unraveling for some time. Robert, who plays second violin, explains the position to his attractive running partner: "I pull it all together, that's my part," but he would prefer first chair. Alex also takes private lessons from Daniel (Mark Ivanir), whose brusque style takes her aback, but she warms up to him to the extent that the professional becomes personal, though their affair seems designed more to hurt her parents than to satisfy her own desires (Jules once had a thing for Daniel). Except for Peter, a role Walken handles with grace, they come across as childish and petulant, which may describe some career musicians, but it's also off-putting. With a little help from Beethoven's Opus 131, however, everyone grows up by the end of Zilberman's well-acted, if uneven film. --Kathleen C. Fennessy