The movie is not without merit, for certain. Any film that features one such overqualified cast as the one assembled for “Quartet” can at least bank on the expectation of watching a bunch of swell actors (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Mark Ivanir) duke it out in a movie that may be unworthy of them. Even so, it’s hard to stay involved in the film once you get a feel for its collusion-filled plot machinations, which are so forced and unnatural that you’re hyper-aware none of this would ever happen in a realistic setting.
The story involves a disintegrating string quartet, known as the Fugue, made up of the aforementioned actors who have been doing it so long that they’re borderline sick of each other. The Fugue have been playing together for 25 years, but it isn’t until one of them (Walken) is diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s disease that cracks in their relationships begin to shine through. Hoffman cheats on Keener, for example, and Ivanir starts his own affair with their much younger daughter (Imogen Poots). Too much of “A Late Quartet” is dedicated to these mundane plot strands, when all we really want is to hear the Fugue bang out some of Beethoven’s loveliest hits.
“A Late Quartet” feels so labored and false that you might even end up resisting its merits. Walken, in particular, gives the sort of quiet, nimble performance you don’t often associate with someone who has made his living cracking wise in films like “Pulp Fiction” and “Seven Psychopaths.” Still, even if you are able to get past the phoniness in “A Late Quartet,” there are much easier — and better — ways of hearing some lovely string music.
★★ (out of ★★★★)
Rated R for language and sexual situations. 105 minutes, 2012.
Director: Yaron Zilberman. Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener.