Walken gives note-perfect performance

A Late Quartet’s  Mark Ivanir, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, and Catherine Keener play musicians on the brink of a breakdown after 25 years of performing together. - Entertainment One
A Late Quartet’s Mark Ivanir, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, and Catherine Keener play musicians on the brink of a breakdown after 25 years of performing together.
— image credit: Entertainment One

On Monday, the Vernon Film Society will screen A Late Quartet, a gala presentation at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.

The film offers a look into a world of art rarely depicted on screen.

First-time feature director Yaron Zilberman assembles a powerhouse cast —Christopher Walken (Seven Psychopaths), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Catherine Keener (Capote), Mark Ivanir (360), and rising young star Imogen Poots (Jane Eyre) —  for this dramatically charged tale of an illustrious string quartet that is set to celebrate its 25th season as an ensemble with an ambitious recital of Beethoven’s Late String Quartets.

While this milestone would seem to be cause for celebration, it soon becomes a catalyst for the members’ assorted personal traumas and reveals the tangled web of jealousy, envy, ambition, and deeply felt affection that binds the group together.

Older than his colleagues, Peter (Walken), the group’s founding member, is diagnosed with a degenerative illness that forces him to confront the troubling question of who will succeed him and what his legacy will be.

The marriage between second violinist Robert (Hoffman) and violist Juliette (Keener) goes suddenly  south when infidelity rears its head, while brilliant, headstrong and steel-willed first violinist Daniel (Ivanir), already engaged in a battle over first chair with Robert, brings tensions to a boil when he falls into the arms of Robert and Juliette’s beautiful young daughter Alexandra (Poots), who is a talented violinist in her own right.

As the film progresses gracefully through its own “movements”, we see how Peter’s illness brings these discordant elements painfully to the fore, as long-repressed feelings and explosive emotions shatter the delicate harmony that has bound the group together for so long.

As the ensemble’s aging patriarch, Walken has never been better, brilliantly etching Peter’s turbulent indecision and, finally, clear-eyed resolve about the right path to take – even as, unbeknownst to him, the four-cornered universe that he has lovingly created begins to fly apart.

Not to be outdone, the rest of the cast rises to Walken’s challenge, and director Zilberman (who co-wrote the screenplay with Seth Grossman) never missteps, guiding us gracefully through those painful inevitabilities of aging and change that  contrast so movingly with the timeless beauty of music.

“Though the stakes are high, the volume is pitched just right: The film and the performances retain a quiet, forceful elegance that’s perfectly in keeping with the Beethoven they’re playing,” said Phillip Crawley, with The Globe and Mail.

A Late Quartet will be screened at the Vernon Towne Cinema Monday at 5:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Tickets are $7 at the door and one week beforehand at the Bean Scene and the Towne.


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