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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: A Late Quartet

February 14th, 2013

A Late Quartet - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

A Late Quartet opened last November and it earned good reviews, but not great reviews. It also did well in limited release, but never expanding significantly. Is it worth checking out for those who missed out on the film in theaters? Are there enough extras to make it worth picking up?

The Movie

A Late Quartet focuses on a classical music quartet with Peter Mitchell, Juliette Gelbart, Robert Gelbart, and Daniel Lerner. They've been playing together a long time touring around the world. Peter's wife died nearly a year ago, but his friendship with the other three has gotten him through it. He also has a side job as a teacher, and one of his students includes Alexandra, Juliette and Robert's daughter. She's a gifted violinist and Peter is a great teacher to her. Daniel is asked to give her a lesson and some pointers, he's less kind. He doesn't think she has the heart to play such emotional music.

They've been together for 25 years, but as they prepare for the upcoming touring season, Peter's playing is a little off. At first he thinks it might just be that he's still on vacation time; however, he decides to visit his doctor, and she thinks it is much worse. His doctor thinks it might be Parkinson's disease. He takes the news as well as one can. There's no cure, but there are medications that can slow the progress of the disease. All of them react in different ways. Peter wants the rest of the quartet to prepare to move on and to find a new cellist right away. He even has a suggestion. Daniel agrees, but is a little cold-hearted in that way. Juliette doesn't take it as well. The change is too much. Robert was looking for some changes anyway. He was talking to a fellow musician, Pilar about performing as first violin sometimes. He uses Peter's retirement as a way of moving toward that goal, which is really bad timing.

These disparate reactions cause a serious rift in the quartet, one that threatens to destroy their friendship.

That's pretty much it for the plot, at least the details we can get to before we reach spoilers. It is a dialogue driven drama that rises above the usual offerings thanks to two factors. Firstly, the acting is amazing. Two of the four leads have won Oscars, Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman, while Catherine Keener has earned two Oscar nominations. Christopher Walken in particular shows he's a great actor and his talents are usually hidden behind the strange characters he plays. The second part of the movie that makes it stand out is the music. Not only do we hear a lot of great music, but we also hear how great musicians talk about the music, how they prepare, the pressures, etc. It takes a maddening amount of work to improve ones skill a nearly imperceptible amount, so it takes a certainly personality type to become an elite musician. We rarely get to see this side of the process.

I guess if I were looking for something to complain about, I would say the film has a "deliberate" pace, which is a kind way of saying it is slow. However, the pace matches the mood, so it is not a problem.

The Extras

The only extra on the DVD and the Blu-ray is an eight-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. It's a good featurette, but as the only extra, it's a little light.

The technical presentation is strong, but not mind-blowing. It's not an expensive movie and it is a dialogue heavy movie, but it was shot digitally, so with those expectations in mind, the video is excellent. There's a strong level of detail, the colors are vivid, the blacks are inky deep, etc. There are no compression issues or digital artifacts. The audio is good, but for the most part uncomplicated. During the musical numbers, I did want a bit more activity in the surround sound speakers, but I'm not going be too hard of the film. It does enough to be worth it.

The Blu-ray is just $3 or 20% more than the DVD, which is a great deal for this type of release.

The Verdict

A Late Quartet is a very good movie and one that should please fans of classical music, or people who just like seeing really good actors work with a solid script. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray, Blu-ray, but it is still worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, A Late Quartet, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mark Ivanir, Catherine Keener, Imogen Poots, Christopher Walken, Laraz Charhi