Setter’s ‘Spectives: Boy, Was ‘A Late Quartet’ Disappointing

YSetter Drawing for Blog 082613ou know a movie about classical music’s in trouble when you want to turn it off to listen to the tunes.

I felt that way about A Late Quartet, Yaron Zilberman’s should’ve-been-good film about the trials and tribulations of a long-standing string ensemble. Not that the actors, who included Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, weren’t up to the task; they were. It’s just that the script was really a problem. It broadcast like Chamber Music 101, with all-too-much expository material taking up some of the scenes, which often attempted to convey how quartets work, the roles of the performers, etc.

So in other words, viewers of the movie aren’t coming in to a conflict that’s already happening. They’re just at the introductory stages, and that was a problem for me … especially considering the fact that this ensemble was supposed to have been together for about 25 years. The credibility of the screenplay was further strained by the actions of Hoffman’s character, who suddenly wants to play first violin. That seemed strange to me; members of great ensembles should be comfortable with their roles — they work as a team, after all — and the idea that he now wants to shift to a more lead-type role after playing together for so long seemed off.

I always liked Hoffman as an actor, and this issue wasn’t his fault. Indeed, the actors tried their hardest. It’s just that the script seemed simplistic, and a movie about Beethoven’s quartets shouldn’t be. A film such as Un Coeur en Hiver treated the conflicts of musicians much more adroitly while including brilliant music (in that case, Ravel). In A Late Quartet, the music seemed to play second fiddle to the issues of the characters, and they weren’t interesting enough to warrant that.

If only they had the definition of a Beethoven quartet. If only.

2 thoughts on “Setter’s ‘Spectives: Boy, Was ‘A Late Quartet’ Disappointing

  1. I didn’t thing “A Late Quartet” was all that bad, but I agree it may not be the most accurate portrayal of the workings of a chamber group. But taken as a essay on human relationships, it was pretty good. Love, lust, strained marriage, below average parenting, compromises made to keep relationships going: it had a lot to say. The Beethoven string quartet itself is 40 minutes long, and unfortunately couldn’t get played in its entirety in the movie.

    • Interesting point. I felt much of the drama wasn’t credible, but it did have its moments. I did feel bad that we couldn’t hear the quartets in their entirety–hearing them played piecemeal was frustrating, especially given the fact that the script, for me, was so weak.

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