While this film has some bracingly strong observations on the nature of long-term professional and personal relationships, it also feels somewhat theatrical in the way its story develops. It's as if everything happens for an important reason, as ordained by the screenwriters. Fortunately, these terrific actors bring out riveting layers of meaning in their characters.

The title refers to the Fugue String Quartet, which has been at the peak of the classical music scene for 25 years. But their fragile balance is shaken when cellist Peter (Walken) is diagnosed with Parkinson's. Second violinist Robert (Hoffman) starts wondering if maybe he should be playing first chair, but he's feeling unsupported by his wife Juliette (Keener), who plays viola. Meanwhile, first violinist Daniel (Ivanir) wants to keep things as they are, although his lessons with Robert and Juliette's prodigy daughter Alex (Poots) are taking an unexpected turn into something steamy. Can the quartet's bond survive all of this?

All four actors underplay their roles perfectly, letting us see the internal workings of their relationships through their own private ambitions. Hoffman, Keener and Ivanir have especially dark edges to play with in every scene, even if their long-repressed issues make the film sometimes feel soapy. Walken is simply wonderful in a rare non-kooky role as a man facing a very difficult future with humour and emotion. On the other hand, Poots kind of gets lost in the shuffle, never really making much of her thinly written role.

Continue reading: A Late Quartet Review