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2012 | 98 min | BBFC: 12 | 2.39:1



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Theatrical release date

 28 December, 2012
 04 January, 2013

Country of origin

 United Kingdom

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Screenshots from Quartet Blu-ray

Quartet Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 18, 2012

Reviewed at the 2012 Twin Cities Film Fest

It’s nearly impossible to fathom that after 50 years of acting, Dustin Hoffman is only now hunting down a directorial career. It’s about time for the legendary performer, who brings a sublime sense of human need to “Quartet,” while permitting a team of premiere actors an opportunity to investigate emotional highs and lows in their own unique ways, resulting in a stunningly acted picture. There’s also a profound love for the performing arts flowing through the effort, taking a few moments to stand in the presence of greatness. While certainly aimed as an audience-pleaser, “Quartet” earns its friendliness, trusting in the power of performance to communicate troubling and euphoric matters with exceptional nuance.

Beecham House is a retirement home for musicians, housing the likes of singers Reginald (Tom Courtenay), Cissy (Pauline Collins), and Wilfred (Billy Connolly). While dealing with the painful realities of aging alongside great artists and egos, including house artistic director Cedric (a charmingly grouchy Michael Gambon), the trio maintains a friendship, forged long ago when they performed as a popular quartet with star Jean (Maggie Smith). When Jean comes to live at Beecham, her arrival stirs up tremendous curiosity in the community and anger from Reginald, who was once married to his fellow singer, only to watch the relationship crack soon after exchanging vows. With Beecham’s annual celebration of Verdi’s birthday on the horizon, a plan is hatched to reunite the quartet for another performance. While expectations are high, Reginald remains disturbed by Jean’s presence, urging Cissy and Wilfred to cool tensions with thoughts of revisiting past triumphs.

Scripted by Ronald Harwood (based on his play), “Quartet” is an elegant film that dares to approach the difficulties of the golden years, though it does so with a sense of humor and a feel of personal understanding, thus deflecting any sense of depression that could possibly overwhelm the dramatics. Similar to last summer’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Quartet” explores the headspace of the characters as they’re confronted with past lives and a ticking clock, recognizing the futility of grudges and time lost to misunderstandings, while dealing with the onset of dementia, embodied here in the character of Cissy, a lovable lady who has a habit of losing her mental focus, with her slips in recognition used by the screenplay as lashes of reality that snaps the formulaic story back to attention. Mercifully, “Quartet” is not a grim picture, yet authenticity of medical issues and thoughts of mortality are present, giving the effort a needed gravity to even out the sweetness that intermittently pops into view.

Hardwood and Hoffman also approach traditional senior disconnect through a class on opera taught by Reginald, where the distinguished singer looks to build a bridge of musical appreciation with teenagers visiting Beecham. A potential cringe-worthy moment featuring Reginald looking to equate opera to hip-hop is softened by Courtenay’s commitment to the moment, while the script cooks up a respectful kid willing to indulge the instructor’s request as a unique creative challenge. It’s a surprisingly captivating scene.

Hoffman wisely stays out of the way of his leading actors, mounting a tastefully constructed picture that embraces the musical vibrations of Beecham, working through rooms and residents to study the community and their commitment to their gifts. For some, time has weakened their ability, while others bask in their still formidable reputations. It’s a collection of vivid personalities, with the supporting cast made up of seasoned performers who bring authenticity to the effort. However, real music is made by Collins, Connolly, Courtenay, and Smith, who deliver sharply defined work as the ailing quartet, with Reginald and Jean particularly troubled characters forced to confront their romantic divide, while the newcomer to Beecham also struggles with an erosion of her once mighty vocal instrument. Just watching the foursome interact and play specific emotional beats with marvelous twinges of introspection is enough to urge “Quartet” along, with Hoffman a true conductor when it comes time to assemble this collision of courage and frailty.

There’s a Big Show conclusion to “Quartet,” but Hoffman doesn’t overstay his welcome. Actually, there’s a distinct absence of performance in the finale, putting emphasis back on intimate feelings and breakthroughs.

This is a lovely picture with welcome heart, allowing Hoffman to take to directing without sacrificing his thirst for human study, shaped over the last five decades of his own work. It’s a little on the sugary side, but the production earns the right to fall in love with these fascinating characters.

Starring: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Andrew Sachs
Director: Dustin Hoffman

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