'A Late Quartet': All the right notes
By Colin Covert
Published: Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Only a few years after completing his Ninth Symphony, while very sick and profoundly deaf, Beethoven created his late string quartets, works of such inner struggle and profound spiritual yearning that many consider them his supreme achievement.
“A Late Quartet” stars Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir as a celebrated New York City chamber-music ensemble about to tackle Op. 131. It's a marathon composition played without pauses between movements. Over the course of the demanding piece, the players weaken and instruments lose pitch. Physical exhaustion becomes part of the music as Beethoven challenges the performers to struggle against their limitations.
In “A Late Quartet,” writer/director Yaron Zilberman finds telling parallels between the piece and the fraying relationships among the creative partners of the Fugue String Quartet. (The Brentano String Quartet provides the actual music.)
Walken, the group's esteemed cellist and founder, mourns his wife's death and struggles with the debilitating effect of Parkinson's disease. Hoffman and Keener, the long-married second violin and viola, face his thwarted desire to move up to first chair and her disillusion with their sputtering relationship. First violinist Ivanir, an exacting egoist, tutors their lovely, talented daughter, Imogen Poots, a relationship fraught with perilous emotional undercurrents. The Fugue is wonderfully harmonious onstage, but their real lives are struggle and discord.
While the story of artistic and romantic rivalries hits familiar notes, you could hardly hope for a more accomplished group to perform it. Zilberman renders the story's upscale, intellectual setting with a pictorial precision that counterpoints the raw immediacy of the performances.
Keener and Hoffman, co-stars in “Capote” and “Synecdoche, New York,” are flawless together, giving us an emotional CAT scan of a troubled couple. It's not just their verbal skirmishes that are wounding. Their very sighs and silences inflict -- and reflect -- serious pain. The usually outré Walken works in a subtle mode here. He's affecting as a man beginning his own dance of death while hoping to preserve his legacy. Ivanir, a background figure in countless TV shows and films, steps into his key role with confidence. He refuses to soften his uncompromising character's sharp edges, giving us a man who commands respect but mistrusts love.
“A Late Quartet” is the essence of a prestige film, an auspicious feature debut for a director whose sensitivity to emotional harmonies is as rewarding as his reverence for timeless, transcendent music.
Colin Covert is a staff writer for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.