A Late Quartet Blu-ray Review
Films that focus on musicians are very rarely concerned with the intricacies and minutia of the music itself. Like any great story, the occupations of the characters are merely vehicles to delve into the human relationships between one another and create a connection with the audience. This is usually a tried and true formula, especially when conveying a story that centers on a niche subculture like that of classical music. However, director/co-writer Yaron Zilberman zealously decided to up the ante for his film A LATE QUARTET and promote the actual music and its execution to an integral character in the script.
Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken, SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS) is the cellist and virtual “heart and soul” of a world-renowned string quartet that has been together for 25 years. For their silver anniversary the group is giving a special performance to kick off the new season, however Peter’s health starts to deteriorate and the quartet must painstakingly deal with the realization of Peter’s eventual departure and replacement. As this earth-shattering change looms over the musicians, they are forced to deal with deep-seeded emotions of love, jealously and resentment that have finally come to a crescendo.
A multitude of films have used the background of classical music to facilitate various messages of human relationships. A LATE QUARTET is not so consumed with the safe and secure delivery of an uplifting response, instead it uses the character’s passion for their work as a figurative metronome that keeps the pace of the script as its literal counterpart would keep the timing in a piece of music. The characters have real-world problems that can be easily translated to any industry in which people have maintained such close quarters with their co-workers for an extended period of time. Although, the true strength of this script is its unapologetic and blatant disregard for the inclusion of movie “fluff.” Much like real interactions, people don’t always have the right words and usually end up compounding their mistakes when emotions are running high. There is seldom a clever quip or joke to lighten up the mood and no matter how high the precipice of one’s success in their path of life, self-validation seems to have a relentless appetite.
Parallel to a string quartet performing their magnum opus, the four co-stars of A LATE QUARTET use the talents of their true craft to convincingly mimic a level of musical art that takes most partakers decades to achieve. Even though Christopher Walken (Peter), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Robert), Catherine Keener (Juliette) and Mark Ivanir (Daniel) were subject to rigorous training by masters of the character’s genre of music, undoubtedly holes and flaws in their handling of the instruments could be pointed out by true professionals. But convincing life-long chamber music performers is not the endgame of this film, the actors just needed to deliver enough sophistication to overly convince the layman movie audience, and perhaps even impress some pros in the industry with their effort.
In addition to the impassioned complexities of displaying a convincing musical performance, an equivalent yet opposite feat is accomplished by the simple enactment of normal behavior. Christopher Walken is easily one of the most popular and beloved actors in Hollywood for his rogues gallery of ornery characters. However, in this film Walken gets the rare opportunity to play a level headed and highly respected member of society, reminding everyone that in real life he’s just an actor and not the fun-loving sociopath every amateur impressionist likes to quote after throwing back a few adult beverages. Equally, this performance also valiantly displays Walken’s range as a pure actor as it takes very little time to adjust to his convincing embodiment of a stable and poised musician of the highest class.
The only bridge that is missing from A LATE QUARTET that keeps the tale of four master musicians from becoming a masterpiece of cinema is its very adequate script. Even though the writing rings true to the circumstances and the personalities of the characters, at times the emotional fallout has a tendency to cross over into the realm of melodrama. Thankfully though, the dialogue is able to retract before characters start speaking in monologues with their backs to the addressee, and the film ultimately culminates as a very entertaining and thought-invoking representation of how the structure of music is dictated by the human condition.
Video: 1080p/AVC MPEG-4, 2.35:1 Widescreen (mistakenly labeled as 1:78:1 on the Blu-ray jacket) This film is extremely clear and sharp, with deep blacks and a warm hue. The most impressive scenes are in the symphony halls where the rich colors exacerbate the feel and emotion of the music.
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1: Audio is under special scrutiny any time the film’s subject matter has to do with music and in that respect, it’s fantastic. Anytime an instrument is played, you feel like you can look to the other end of the couch and expect to see a maestro conducting. However speech is a bit muted and on occasion some dialogue in the low registers can be a bit difficult to make out clearly.
Discord and Harmony: Creating a Late Quartet (8 min): It’s the only special feature to be included on the disc and unfortunately it’s also very brief. The featurette contains confessionals on how the actors had almost no idea of how to convey they were master musicians and tell about some of the grueling hours they had to put in just to get to the point where they could fake it. This is definitely an aspect that should have warranted at least a 20 or 30 minute feature with interviews from the real quartet that is heard playing during the film.