As the film opens, cellist Peter (Walken) informs the rest of the group -- first violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir), second violinist Robert (Hoffman) and violist (and Robert's wife) Juliette (Keener) -- that he's been diagnosed with Parkinson's, and he'll be exiting the quartet. It's devastating news both personally and professionally. 30 years older than his peers, Peter taught Daniel who invited his teacher to join the group he was forming, and 3000 performances later, it has become a defining part of their lives. Forming the kind of close friendship and musical relationship that comes from years of playing together, Peter's exit doesn't just rupture the group, but finds the remaining members now forced to examine where their journey has taken them thus far, and where it will go from here.
So yes, it's a lot of strings to thread through this narrative, but they are largely inert. The marital tiff between Robert and Juliette could be its own movie, but sharing space with the two or three other story strands that emerge, it's boiled down to its most basic moving parts, with the depth of their twenty-five year marriage, and what's really at stake, never getting its full due. And though Walken is seemingly introduced as the main character, his arc -- again, a fascinating one as a successful musician and professor who has to cope with a disease that will find him losing his talents -- is mostly left to bookend the movie. But most disappointing of all, the interesting world of classical music which all these characters orbit is never really felt, thus making the narratives feel like they ultimately could have been pulled from any Indie Drama 101.
But those highlights aside, "A Late Quartet" is mostly a series of either predictable or sour (or both) notes. While it's understandable why Zilberman would want to give equal weight to each member of the group, doing so diminishes each of their stories dramatically and emotionally, and that isn't helped by the routine nature of how they unfold. And it should also be mentioned that as good as the acting is, none of the "playing" in the film ever looks real or believable. While Robert implores Daniel to "Unleash your passion," it's exactly that sentiment that's missing from "A Late Quartet." While some of the movments are compelling, the symphony as a whole never quite finds a melody. [C]