A Late Quartet review

This film comes with strings attached

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While Christopher Walken's award hopes were focused on Seven Psychopaths this year and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s on The Master , Yaron Zilberman’s elegant drama was left out in the cold this past gong-giving season.

Which is a shame, as both stars are as good as they have ever been in this involving story of a long-established string quartet whose future is imperiled when their eldest, Parkinson’s-afflicted member announces his intention to retire.

OK, so Chris and Phil aren’t the most credible classical musicians we’ve seen. Yet their oddball casting works in A Late Quartet ’s favour, their committed playing bringing a resonance and gravitas to material that might otherwise feel precious.

Besides, the rarefied backdrop is only here to show up the baser passions on display: the sense of inadequacy that makes second violinist Robert (Hoffman) fiddle on violist spouse Juliette (Catherine Keener), or the buttoned-up passion that sends first chair Daniel (Mark Ivanir) into the bed of their headstrong daughter (Imogen Poots).

With Walken looking sadly on as the patriarchal cellist trying to keep the family together, the result is a surprisingly touching portrait of high art laid low by all too human frailties.

And while it is hard to believe that any ensemble could have lasted so long with so many unresolved tensions bubbling beneath the surface, there is a sense that there is something worth fighting for here - if only so we can hear more of the sweeping, Beethoven-fuelled soundtrack around which the action revolves.

From the wood-panelled concert halls where the four ply their trade to the snowy Central Park where Hoffman does his jogging, New York itself becomes a player in a film that is sure to be embraced by its discerning cognoscenti.

But even if the only movements you’re au fait with involve your limbs, that shouldn’t prevent you feeling in tune with the pleasures on offer.

Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.