Movie review: 'A Late Quartet' better on music than melodrama

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The musical drama "A Late Quartet" is a lot more compelling when it discusses music than when it focuses on the drama.

A string quartet is marking its 25th anniversary, but there's turmoil among the long-harmonizing foursome. The group's cellist and senior member, Peter (Christopher Walken), has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and wants the other three to start planning for his replacement. The second violinist, Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman), thinks Peter's departure opens a door for him to occasionally take the first-violin duties. Daniel (Mark Ivanir), the perfectionist first violinist, thinks this will destroy the quartet's sound — and it's a blow to Robert's ego when the violist, Robert's wife, Juliette (Catherine Keener), agrees with Daniel. Oh, and by the way, Daniel starts a relationship with Robert and Juliette's daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots), an up-and-coming violinist.

The script — by director Yaron Silberman and co-writer Seth Grossman — is fascinating, even poetic, when it discusses the joys of music and connects the harmony of the quartets (specifically, Beethoven's Op. 131) with the harmony of the musicians playing it. But the melodrama among the main characters is more soap opera than grand opera, even with a quartet of actors as fine as this.; —


'A Late Quartet'

Opens Friday, Nov. 16, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas; rated R for language and some sexuality; 105 minutes.