Note-Perfect Portrayals Help Ensemble Keep the Music Playing

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A LATE QUARTET. Directed by Yaron Zilberman, with Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir and Imogen Poots

REVIEW: Jordan Mintzer

A TERRIFIC cast helps boost an otherwise conventional chamber piece in A Late Quartet, writer-director Yaron Zilberman's debut feature about a New York string ensemble trying to stay in tune amid a wealth of personal disasters.

Featuring endearing performances from Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, the film mines the relationship issues and the Upper East Side neighbourhoods of Woody Allen's best work, but could use a dose of the Woodster's jokes to spruce up a self-serious scenario that hits the right notes about half the time.

The working musician angle of the screenplay (co-written with Seth Grossman, The Elephant King) remains the most intriguing part of a rather familiar story where mid- and late-life crises come to a head for the members of the world-renowned Fugue String Quartet from Manhattan.

On the brink of celebrating the ensemble's 25th anniversary, their seasoned cellist, Peter (Walken), learns he has Parkinson's disease and breaks the bad news, causing a fracture among his fellow musicians: Robert (Hoffman), who can no longer stomach playing second fiddle to violinist David (Mark Ivanir), and Robert's wife, Juliette (Keener), who is having major doubts about their marriage.

An opening sequence does a good job revealing the strange camaraderie of a group who spend most of the year rehearsing, touring and performing together, creating an intimacy that goes beyond the workplace towards something significantly more personal. …