A Late Quartet Blu-ray Review: Christopher Walken Finally Gets to Play a Real Person!

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As just about anyone who has ever surfed either the shelves of a video store's "hip" section or scoured throughout the various forums available on the Interweb (and the avatars of the users contained therein) has probably deduced, Christopher Walken is hailed as something of a badass with several generations. It's really no surprise, of course: the famous performer has become something of a living meme for the oft-bizarre characters he has played, not to mention his own wild-style and keen ability to mock even himself repeatedly on Saturday Night Live. But then there's that side of Walken that not very many of today's viewers are truly aware exists: his dramatic, serious edge -- as aspect of a typecast actor which is just as equally fascinating.

 In 2004, first time writer/director Yaron Zilberman released a poignant documentary about a group of Viennese Hakoah swimmers amidst the political turmoil of 1930s Austria. Eight years later, Zilberman brings us another tale of turmoil: his first official work of fiction, A Late Quartet -- starring the solemn talents of Mr. Walken, who is dynamically joined here by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Mark Ivanir. Zilberman's excursion into the all-too-common and incredibly realistic tribulations about adult life begin with Walker -- the eldest member of a globally acclaimed string quartet -- discovers he has Parkinson's Disease.

Deciding that this -- the group's 25th anniversary -- will be his final hoorah with the troupe, he lets his colleagues know of his situation right off the bat. Unfortunately, this does not fare well with the others, which causes their own suppressed feelings to rush to the surface in emotional disorder. Hoffman, the somewhat blissfully blind second violinist of the group, begins to see that things aren't truly copasetic between him and his on-screen wife, played by Ms. Keener. She, meanwhile, deals with the drama of loss -- from her own long-deceased parents, to the realization that her grown daughter (the oddly-named Imogen Poots) is being swept away by the quartet's founding (and youngest) affiliate, Mr. Ivanir.

Soon, a web of negativity is constructed -- Hoffman's overdue and rebellious anger, Keener's mournful and confused coldness, and Ivanir's newfound sense of artless lust -- and there, in the middle is the very man who invariantly started it all: Walken, who has no choice but to play the responsible adult to the grown musicians who should really know better. But, of course, when you get into a habitual routine for so long, the disruption of it can provoke many a bad feeling to come forth from within. It's something any mature adult can probably identify with, as well as several younger folks who were forced to grow up long before it was time to. And Zilberman relays every single moment of pleasure and pain we see onscreen with a genuine sincerity that comes off almost seamlessly on his part, and which is -- sadly -- quite uncommon in this day and age. Really, people: it's rare that I tear up like I did at the conclusion of A Late Quartet -- an ending that, mind you, is nowhere near as gloomy as you might expect.

Also featured in this adroitly sculpted tale of adults being adults are Wallace Shawn and Liraz Charhi. Cellist Nina Lee -- whose own real-life famed quartet, the Brentano String Quartet, provide the incredible chamber sounds we hear in A Late Quartet -- has a minor part as herself.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings us this real sleeper of a winner -- which was, interestingly, co-produced by none other than RKO Pictures (complete with a new take on the classic logo!) -- to Blu-ray in a beautiful 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC-encoded transfer that brings out the absolute best the shot-on-digital film has to offer. Detail is just as fine as frog hair (to coin an expression an old colleague of mine would always use), colors are both robust and well-balanced, and contrast is as lifelike as can be. Likewise, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack accompanying the movie delivers the sometimes-less-than-subtle sounds Manhattan can offer, as well as the powerful moments of dialogue and classical string music. English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles are included.

As is usually the case with a non-Criterion-released title I truly enjoy, Fox's release of A Late Quartethas only one single solitary special feature at its disposal (apart from a number of trailers that automatically play when the disc loads): a short (nearly eight-minutes) press kit-style promotional piece that interviews key cast and crew. While it's a fleeting, bland piece when compared to its feature presentation, it's nonetheless nice to hear Christopher Walken admit that it's nice to play a role for once that isn't "nefarious."

Highly recommended.

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