Four sedate, super-civilized musicians are thrown into a pressure cooker in A Late Quartet, a drama whose measured veneer gives way to memorable and explosive moments.
There are movies that seduce major actors with the prospect of becoming an action figure, and then there are others that earn their world-class casts by providing scenes that remind actors why they became actors.
A Late Quartet is the second kind of movie.
There's a scene in which Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing a man who has had a spontaneous one-night stand with a woman, is in the process of nipping the affair in the bud. Suddenly his wife (Catherine Keener) walks up to their table, and the look on his face is pure terror, so that you feel physically transported into the actor's body: the heart pounding, the stomach clenching, the fast breathing, the panic. That's amazing acting, and it's one of several extraordinary scenes for Hoffman, who is not the only one brilliant here. Director Yaron Zilberman, in his first narrative feature, has directed his actors to a series of staggering moments, some restrained and some bravura.
Yet there are quieter moments just as pointed and just as effective, as when the senior member of the quartet (Christopher Walken) finds out in one of the movie's first scenes that he probably has Parkinson's disease.
The Parkinson's diagnosis is the catalytic event, and with that the lives of the four musicians, who are world renowned, begin to break out of confinement and become messy.
In many ways, A Late Quartet is as civilized as its characters, which is not always an advantage.
It's a movie about mature, rational people, which limits the possibilities -- things can't get too crazy, after all. But for those willing to enter this world and pay attention, A Late Quartet provides distinct and uncommon satisfactions.
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Angelika Plano; opens Nov. 30 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
-- Mick LaSalle,
San Francisco Chronicle