Movie Review: “A Late Quartet” – A Grand Composition

Written by Leo Panasyuk January 06, 2013

I’m willing to bet many of you have heard the phrase ‘music is my life’. For some, it’s a passing phrase which holds no real depth other than the fact that it sounds nice. Yet for others, it is a phrase which defines their entire existence upon this earth. For the characters in Yaron Zilberman’s “A Late Quartet”, it’s most certainly the latter. This film is not only about music but about life and how closely connected those two are. And just like how every musical piece has a beginning, it also has an end.

A Difficult Piece Played by Difficult People

“A Late Quartet” follows the personal and professional lives of four string musicians attempting to tackle Beethoven’s String Quartet 14, also known as Opus 131. This composition is known for having more movements than any other piece during its time and requiring the musicians to not take any breaks to adjust or tune, which makes it all the more challenging to play well. The musicians, Daniel (Mark Ivanir), Peter (Christopher Walken), Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette (Catherine Keener), all appear to be cool-headed performers on the outside, but what goes on in their private lives is something else entirely, and that is what drives the message of the film home.

Not all plays well on the home front.

Not all plays well on the home front.

“Do You Love Me or Am I Just Convenient?”

Each of the four characters in the film has something in their personal life that almost obstructs them from focusing on their work and they must all learn to overcome their personal (and mutual) struggles for the good of the group. Without giving much of the plot away, each character faces a personal dilemma be it love, health or the threat of losing touch with those once close to you. Throughout the film and even after it, I had a difficult time deciding on whose performance I enjoyed most and I came up with the only logical conclusion- all of them. Each actor brings their own unique performance to the table and as the story progresses we laugh with them and cry with them as though we were there with them.


Beethoven’s Opus 131 is not only the central point of congregation for the characters in the film but it’s also a metaphor for life. Early in the film, Walken’s character addresses his quartet class and explains to them the intricacy and precision of the piece and says how it must be played without any breaks and even though your fellow players may become out of tune, you must simply adapt and play on. I thought this was a wonderful parallel to the film’s overall message of ‘life happens’ and it also foreshadowed the coming hardships and hostilities the group would face.

“All the World’s a Stage, and the Men and Women Merely Players”

“A Late Quartet” is a film which begins as something innocent only to crescendo into something dramatic and extraordinary. Even though certain parts of the film seem rushed and while not enough emphasis is placed on other parts, everything still comes together just as it should in the end. With this film being the first I’ve seen in 2013, I can only ascertain that this year will be cinematically marvelous.

My Rating: 8.5/10


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About Leo Panasyuk

A fan of all things film, Leo never really lets himself get tied down to one specific genre. He's always interested in watching new and old films and especially loves the IMAX format. When he's not choosing which movie to watch next, he's studying Film and English at Western University.

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