With polished smoothness, four gifted actors portray the members of a long-standing quartet faced with an upcoming crisis as its leader may bow out due to illness. Mimicking the concept of four individuals musically adjusting their own wills in order to play as one quartet, the four characters are faced with decisions and circumstances that require similarly flexible responses to each other’s needs. The movie concerns the failure and success of these people to make such adjustments to life’s passions and travails. This is a film about talented people whose vocabulary and expression reflect the intelligence required to understand and interpret great music. One of the conflicts in the film centers on what happens to this control when emotion and passion intersect with it; something that may be very desirable musically may become a source of great pain in relationships.
Each of the actors is given a unique ability that distinguishes him from his peers. Daniel, the first violin, is the cerebral one who calibrates the music with mathematical precision; Robert, the second violin, adds texture and warmth; Juliet, the viola player who is married to Robert, is the most soulful of the four while Peter, the oldest and the one who plays the cello (the largest instrument), is the teacher and the humanist who sees above the petty disgruntlements of life to its larger purpose. As played by Christopher Walker, this may be his finest performance, eschewing the usual gimmicks we’ve come to associate with him for a genteel nobility that is profoundly moving.
Would that the screenplay had been as grand as the music and the characters. Unfortunately, the presence of clunky situations bordering on farce threaten to derail this gem. The introduction of a fifth character, the willfull and sensuous daughter of Robert and Juliet, is poorly conceived, both literally and figuratively. She functions as a wooden plot point to allow for exposition and arbitrary conflict and the episodes involving her dusturb the otherwise harmonious tone of this film - even within its intended discord. There is another development that is pushed over the top by a tone-deaf confrontation, similarly jarring in a movie with such sensitive chords. Because of the extreme gratification of watching these actors perform a brilliant ensemble piece throughout the film, this drawback is relegated to the lowest registers of our perceptions. See this movie for the rare opportunity to watch characters with depth, intelligence and the ability to leave us with something bigger than ourselves to contemplate.
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