It's not often that the dynamics of a classical music ensemble, as opposed to, say, a bunch of old rockers on the road, is the core of a feature film. But in "A Late Quartet," the tensions of musicians in a decades' long collaboration and the failing health of one member makes for gripping drama. The cast of this string quartet can't be beat, starting with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, and the late quartet that inhabits the soundtrack is Beethoven's epic late string quartet, Opus 131 in C-sharp minor. Walken portrays the group's cellist, coming to grips with Parkinson's and the end of his playing days, while Hoffman wrestles with an artistic mid-life crisis. The great mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter has a cameo moment that will resonate strongly with opera aficionados. The film is no masterpiece, but fully satisfying, with some fine acting, realistic drama and a soundtrack that can't be beat.
- MILTON MOORE