Film review by John Campbell
Burly Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a violinist in a famous string quartet? It might have been more plausible, I thought, to present the bloke as an Olympic sprinter in spray-on lycra. Christopher Walken (how does he get his hair to stand on end as though he’s just been electrocuted?) on double bass, and Catherine Keener on viola da gamba were only marginally less likely. At least, that was my pre-conception. Incredibly, the conceit works. With Peter (Walken) as its senior member, the group has been together twenty-five years and, if not pushing the envelope stylistically or in their choice of repertoire, they are superb at what they do.
Robert (Hoffman), who has been playing second fiddle to Daniel (Mark Ivanir) all that time, is married to Juliette (Keener) and their daughter, Alexandra (Imogen Poots), is a fragile music student being tutored by Daniel. It’s a mix waiting to implode and the tipping point comes when Peter is diagnosed with the onset of Parkinson’s disease. He reluctantly concedes that his days are numbered and the others in the quartet, forced to confront change, that most challenging nemesis, are suddenly wracked by ancient doubts, foolish lust and thwarted ambition.
Robert’s frustration at never having been considered good enough for the principal violinist’s part boils over, with disastrous consequences. It is a terrific performance from Hoffman as the (justifiably?) sulky artiste, and Ivanir is compelling too as the obsessive, single minded leader who succumbs to a sudden weakness of the flesh, but it is Peter, around whom the maelstrom broils, who is at the heart of the matter. When, I wonder, did Walken become such a fine actor? Confused by all that is beyond his control and at a loss to fully understand how it could have come to this, Peter exhibits an heroic dignity at the group’s tense, elevating final performance. Director Yaron Zilberman enhances a movie of insight and compassion with a fine eye for the classical beauty of the instruments themselves – and the Beethoven is pretty good too.