This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
In the 25th year of their career together, a famous string quartet receives some devastating news. Peter, their cellist, has been diagnosed in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. This bombshell interrupts the steady pace of their work and exposes personal issues that have long remained latent.
"A Late Quartet" does one of the most interesting things any film can do. It shows how skilled professionals work. I knew about string quartets in general. Now I know more about them in practice, especially about how they require four talented individuals to form into one disciplined voice. I suspect any serious music lover will be convinced that Yaron Zilberman's film knows what it is talking about.
One of the pleasures here is to see familiar and gifted actors forming an ensemble of their own. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener join with a newer face, Mark Ivanir, to play the members of the Fugue String Quartet, a world-famous ensemble based in Manhattan. Walken is Peter Mitchell, the cellist, who is the wisest and most thoughtful member of the group. Hoffman and Keener are Robert and Juliette Gelbart, the second violin and viola, who are married. The first violin and youngest member of the group is Daniel Lerner (Ivanir).
Peter notices a weakness in the fingers of his left hand, consults a specialist (Madhur Jaffrey) and is startled to learn that even before a blood test and a brain scan she can tell him, on the basis of a few simple physical tests, that she suspects Parkinson's. He reveals this quietly to his fellow musicians. In this moment and throughout the film, Christopher Walken reminds us that although he often plays caricatures and joins in kidding his mannerisms (see the recent "Seven Psychopaths"), he can be a deep and subtle actor, particularly good at suggesting deep intelligence.