A Late Quartet

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
A Late Quartet Movie Poster Image
Drama about musicians has great acting, some mature content.
  • R
  • 2012
  • 105 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The characters struggle with the conflict between what they have and what they want and often get frustrated when they realize they can't have what they want. Some accept it more gracefully, and some try to make it happen anyway, often leaving chaos and destruction in their wake. There's a stark contrast between those who are mature and those who act like petulant children.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Peter is a rock, even as a life-changing illness effectively ends his career and threatens the group's future. He's dignified and noble as he tries to steer his colleagues in a new direction. Meanwhile, the quartet's other three members struggle not to be overcome by long-simmering jealousy and frustration, sometimes keeping their ignoble impulses in check and other times behaving like spoiled children who are upset that they can't have what they want.


Two men get into a fistfight and knock over some furniture, though clearly neither is much of a fighter. A mother slaps her grown daughter during a heated argument.


A married man has a brief affair with a woman who's shown nude, moving up and down over him in bed. A young musician gets involved with her older teacher, and they're briefly seen kissing under the covers.


Relatively infrequent swearing includes "s--t," "a--hole," and "damn."


A few characters use Apple computers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several scenes show people drinking wine or champagne at meals and other social events, and one man partakes in stronger stuff at a bar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Late Quartet examines the inner workings of a world-famous string quartet that's thrown into disarray when one of the musicians is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Long-buried rivalries -- some petty, others more significant -- are revealed as the three remaining players try to come to grips with their new reality, and not everyone behaves like a mature adult. Expect some bitter arguments, occasional swearing (including "s--t"), and a brief fistfight, as well as a few sex scenes (including one with a nude woman moving up and down over a man) and several people drinking wine and other beverages in social situations.

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What's the story?

Celebrating 25 years of playing together, the world-famous Fugue Quartet is thrown into disarray when Peter (Christopher Walken), the cellist, is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Not only does this effectively end his musical career, but it also upends the group's stable working relationship and threatens their personal relationships. Soon, Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is revealing long-unspoken frustrations with his role as second violin, as well as issues in his marriage to the viola player (Catherine Keener). And Daniel (Mark Ivanir), the lead violinist, takes up with a much younger woman, a pairing that may tear the quartet apart.

Is it any good?

Classical musicians seem so genteel, channeling their passions into their music; A LATE QUARTET does an admirable job of unmasking this myth. It expertly splices the eponymous group's failings and frailties, which emerge when their leader announces the possibility that he might retire.

The entire cast is formidable, and they play off each other beautifully. (We won't discuss their playing, however, which is barely passable to anyone familiar with quartets and string instruments.) Some of the plot points are ludicrous (a certain player's romance with a younger woman), and others, too obvious (an infidelity). But many musicians -- and actors -- might agree that with a cast this talented, these sins are forgivable. And the music? Perfection.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the characters. Are they realistic? Are they relatable? Do you think they're intended to be role models?

  • What choices do the characters make? What have they given up? What is the movie saying about these decisions?

  • Some musicians who've seen the movie say they find it distracting to see non-musicians "play" their instruments. Do you think it's important for a movie about a specific talent to portray that talent accurately?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love music

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