A Late Quartet
Unlikable characters blight this grown-up drama starring Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman
As befits an unapologetically grown-up and classy film about posh people who have loads of money and play in a string quartet, this drama has some supremely elegant, subtle and well-turned scenes. It also has moments of preciousness choking enough to make Woody Allen seem like a rough and ready man of the people. Christopher Walken is effortlessly lovable, immediate and moving as an ageing cellist who, as his health begins to fail, decides that the time has come to step down from the world-famous quartet with which he’s been playing for a quarter-century. At the very thought of continuing without him, his fellow musicians – his stepdaughter Jules (Catherine Keener), her husband Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and their solemn, severe, deeply talented friend Daniel (less familiar but impressive Mark Ivanir) – begin to come unstuck, with long-buried resentments and desires rushing to the surface.
Rushing, arguably, a little too fast; too many moneyed mid-life crisis clichés collide too suddenly, with the consequence that the characters, Walken’s apart, begin swiftly to grate on our sympathies, threatening the film’s capacity to hold on to our attention. What are we to make of Robert, for instance, when he in short order cheats on his wife of twenty-five years, and calls out a bidder who’s beaten him at an auction for an antique violin for having 'taken a fine instrument away from a real musician'? The first makes it hard to like him, but the second makes it impossible; he’s not just a weak man but a hopelessly rarefied AND mean-spirited snob. And the film, like its characters, lives in the past too much, with too many badly faked group photos from fake classical music magazines… In short, believing in and sticking with people you might leave a dinner party to avoid is arguably the biggest challenge of a film that elsewhere offers many pleasures, not least some ravishing music.
A Late Quartet screened at Glasgow Film Festival. Limited release from Fri 5 Apr.