Huh, there are people out there who say that not a whole lot of music critics out there are actually good musicians, yet here is Lester Bangs, playing one mean violin, when he does, in fact, show up, that is. Man, first Madonna is a couple of hours late to her own show, and now even our string quartets are struggling with punctuality, probably because they're held back by their silly little problems like crumbling friendships, sexual tension's coming to a head and Parkinson's disease. Shoot, as if it wasn't hard enough to distinguish Christopher Walken and Christopher Lloyd, two eccentric older gentlemen with crazy hair, now Walken has done gone and gotten himself a mean case of the Michael J. Fox disease, but only in this film, so don't get too scared, Walken fans. Really, if anyone involved in this film has serious issues in real like, it's well, Imogen Poots for being pretty yet still haunted by the last name Poots (By the ways, her middle name is Gay; what is wrong with her parents?), as well as the poor sucker who's still keeping RKO Pictures alive in hopes of getting it back into the public eye, because, come on, how many of you even knew that this RKO production even existed? Well, it's still nice to see them kicking, as well as keeping it old-fashioned, because even their latest film is essentially a rock band break-up drama, only with a string quartet, rather than a rock band. Of course, if nothing else is old-fashiond about this film, then it's its old-fashioned melodrama. Eh, whatever, I still like this film just fine, though not quite as much as I would like to, because melodrama is hardly its only problem.
At just over 100 minutes, this character drama appears to run a reasonably comfortable length on paper, and often is in execution at quite a few times, yet there are still spots that feel a touch undercooked, with development especially being too tight for its own good, because outside of occasions in which expository dialogue goes crowbarred in (Oh man, Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers a confrontation speech to Catherine Keener nearly at the hour mark that is bloated to no end with borderline random little-known facts), as well as even an awkwardly forced sequence in which our lead quartet watches a documentary on them that outlines their origin, there is hardly any bit of development to this film, whose driving characters are portrayed well enough to sustain a fair degree of your investment, but not with enough genuine meat in the story structure department for you to gain all that firm of a grip on things. What further distances the impact of drama resonance is, as I said, its going haunted by melodrama, which isn't so exceedingly immense that you feel as though you're watching Hallmark filler, but very firmly secured, growing greater and greater as plot unravels, until, after a while, genuineness slips just enough for you to go thrown off. Sure, there is enough inspiration in direction and acting for emotional resonance to feel more genuine that the drama itself at times, but inspiration in execution of flawed concept structuring can only do so much to battle back issues that were established from the pen-to-paper stages, and sure enough, with histrionics come predictability and issues in full dramatic kick. What further throws off your full engagement value with this film's various subplots is, of course, inconsistency in the focus on these subplots, which aren't tossed all over the place, but much to unevenly handled, to where certain plot layers go pushed too far into away for their return to be all that organic, and that really messes with the film's momentum, though perhaps not as much as a degree of aimlessness. While the film definately shaves off some time by scrapping much development, lost time all too often goes made up for through padding, made all the more glaring by slow spells that, against my fears, rarely, if ever slip into dullness, but help in giving plotting a kind of aimless feel that brings all other flaws in story structure to light. There are a fair deal of moments in this film that are genuinely strong, but there are too many issues in this film's decent, but underdeveloped, melodramatic and even aimlessly padded script, whose issues stand as just pronounced enough to hold back the final product's full potential. Still, much like the band, the audience plays on, or at least would be hard pressed to not, because as improvable as this film is in plotting and drama, its high notes keep you coming back to a flawed story that still keeps up a reasonable degree of dramatic sharpness, as well as musical sharpness.
If this film is going to keep up its integrity as a study on a string quartet, it's going to need to really play up classical string musicality, and does so quite well, with the Brentano String Quartet supplying this film's soundtrack with fine renditions of many an excellent classical piece, especially Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131, a piece whose being played in this film that discusses, if not all-out rather heavily focuses upon it on more than a few occasions, helps in keeping you grounded in the final product. Sure, this film's music isn't sweepingly dynamic, much less strikingly powerful, nor is it featured all that often, but this lovely soundtrack smoothly breathes some degree of life into this film, helping in keeping it lively, and helping in reinforcing thematic weight, while what reinforces dramatic weight are the fair deal of high spots in this film's story. The film is too flawed in its story structure and dramatic structuring, getting to be aimless and melodramatic, so of course potential is diluted, but not so much so that it can be ignored, as this film's plot concept, while not too extraordinary, or even all that refreshing, has enough conceptual kick to its intelligence and humanity to keep you, to one degree or another, intrigued. The value of this film's concept is all too often betrayed, but still stands firm enough to hold your attention, while your investment goes adequately sustained by what is done right in the directorial efforts of Yaron Zilberman, who doesn't do too much to compensate for the missteps in his and Seth Grossman's script, but keeps up enough juice in the air to keep you reasonably entertained throughout the film, until we come to a moment in which Zilberman wakes up and delivers on genuine dramatic resonance, which stands to have more to it, as far as quanitity and quality are concerned, but gives this film its share of truly strong moments, including the ending, which is still too abrupt to not feel rather offputting, but would have gone horribly wrong if Zilberman didn't handle it with such unexpected genuineness that cleverly and rather deeply draws from atmosphere with enough attention to delicacy to comfortably tie everything around, or at least as much as it can with its abruptness, and deliver a pretty rewarding final note to a flawed, but generally dramatically engaging movement. Zilberman, as director, does only so much, but what he does do ultimately proves to be enough to get the final product by as decent, with golden occasions, some of which go carried, not just by Zilberman, but by a certain strength that stands as consistent throughout this film. If there was more acting material to this film, then we would be looking at some excellent performances that rank among some of your better ones of 2012, but as things stand, this film fails only to put its excellent cast to good use, as each performance feels genuine, with emotional range and layers that help our performers in defining their undercooked characters as humanly compelling, and by extension, probably more than this film's script deserves. This film's script isn't bad, or even mediocre, being genuinely decent, but still too flawed for the film to achieve the overall goodness that it almost claims, thanks to inspired performances, on and off of the screen, that hit just enough to make this film a nevertheless enjoyable one, with occasions of strength that stand to be a bit more recurring.
To bring down the final note, this film find its potential undercut by considerable underdevelopment that distances dramatic resonance about as much as the melodramatic touches that grow greater and greater as the film progresses, and aimlessly so, thanks to the bland padding that gives you enough time to meditate upon shortcomings and find that the final product doesn't quite hit as many high notes as it should, which isn't to say that this movement doesn't go smooth enough to sustain some degree of your investment, boasting a strong soundtrack, as well as a story concept that goes handled well enough by Yaron Zilberman, as director, and carried far enough by strong performances, to make "A Late Quartet" a reasonably entertaining and sometimes impacting drama, in spite of its shortcomings.
2.5/5 - Fair