AFF 2012 Review: A LATE QUARTET

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

With a gifted cast, this film was another I refused to miss at the Austin Film Festival this year.  The cast certainly does deliver exceptional performances.  However, there is not a whole lot of new ground covered in this drama about aging, life regrets, and missteps.  The screenplay by Seth Grossman and Yaron Zilberman does offer some fine writing in the more humanly dramatic scenes, but seems uncertain with its overall purpose other than to portray that we, as humans, as gifted we may be, are inherently flawed and make mistakes.

Directed by Yaron Zilberman, the film focuses on a highly revered, world famous string quartet that has reached a turning point in their lives and career.  The leader and eldest member, cellist Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken) has become ill and eventually will have to retire. In light of this major shake-up within the quartet, two other members, a married couple named Robert and Juliette Gelbart (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener) must not only deal with their marital woes, but also face a troubled relationship between their young daughter Alexandra (Imogene Poots) and quartet violinist Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir).

The film starts off really slowly, and I must admit that I had some difficulty staying awake and engaged during the first act.  When the drama ensues, though, the movie does engage and kept me interested through the rest of the film.  The resolution of one of the main conflicts of the film felt artificial and a bit implausible unfortunately.  The story doesn’t offer much new or dynamic in terms of human relationship stories, but works well enough for the stars to deliver fine performances.

I really have nothing negative to say about Walken, Hoffman, Keener or Ivanir who all perform wonderfully in their respective roles and credibly appear to play their instruments with proficiency.  If anyone really stands out, though, it would be Imogene Poots who has some truly beautiful scenes, particularly one intensely dramatic moment with her onscreen mother Keener.

As far as my recommendation regarding this film goes, I’d wait to rent this one to watch at home, especially if one has a lovely HD television with a great sound system.  If not, then I’d recommend catching it as a matinee, because the cinematography and music should be enjoyed and appreciated in the best format available.  It may be a long shot in a year of many outstanding movies and performances, but I’d like to see Imogene Poots receive some nominations for her lovely supporting role.  I wouldn’t doubt that some of the lead actors might receive nominations as well.  I just don’t think this particular film offers anything truly remarkable in terms of storytelling.

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