The home for retired musicians will soon host a new resident. Word is, it's a star. But Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins) are in for a shock when this former "star" turns out to be none other than their former singing partner - and Reggie's former wife - Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). Will the famous quartet let old wounds keep them from making music together again, or will they be able to patch up their differences in time for Beecham House's gala concert? Dustin Hoffman directs this moving, funny film about music, love, and second chances.
After decades in the film industry, Dustin Hoffman finally goes behind the camera for his directorial debut with 'Quartet.' (Historical note: Hoffman actually began to direct 1978's 'Straight Time,' but pulled out shortly after starting and let Ulu Grosbard take over.) While there's nothing particularly spectacular about the movie's story, it's the topic, style, and actors that impress here, making Hoffman's first effort a worthy viewing.
The movie takes place at Beecham House, a retirement home for musicians. There, we are introduced to a number of the residents, including Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly), Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), and Cicily Robson (Pauline Collins) – who were all friends with each other during their respective careers. Also residing at the house is Cedric Livingston (Michael Gambon) whom, as the film opens, is trying to get the acts rehearsed and in place for the house's annual gala, the proceeds of which may determine whether the home can remain open or not.
Buzz starts to generate around the retirement community about a new resident due to arrive. It turns out it's a famous opera singer named Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). It's revealed that Reginald was once married to Jean, and things didn't end well. He's been spending most of his life avoiding her, and when Jean arrives at Beecham House, he does everything in his power to avoid her. Jean asks him for forgiveness, but it seems to be something he's unwilling to give.
Of course, once Reginald and Jean start to spend a little time together, old wounds start to heal. However, when Reginald, Wilfred, and Cicily decide to try and recruit Jean into singing with them at the gala, things turn sour again and this time it's Jean's turn to realize the importance of forgiveness and life-long friendships.
As noted at the outset of this review, the storyline here is pretty simple (it's based on writer Ronald Harwood's play), but the actors really shine. It probably goes without saying that Maggie Smith is great, but the real surprise in this movie is Billy Connolly, whose sex-starved Wilfred Bond is simply a delight to watch. His ongoing flirtation with the young doctor assigned to the house (played by Sheridan Smith) is one of the highlights of the film. Both Courtenay and Gambon turn in strong performances as well. Director Hoffman has also populated his supporting cast with real-life musicians, meaning all of the singing in the film is real (not dubbed) and the movie has a sense of legitimacy about it that wouldn't be there had those roles been cast with standard movie extras.
Naturally, the underlying message of Hoffman's movie is that we're never too old to stop learning and living. It's a simple message, but one told with a lot of professionalism here. The direction is solid, the actors are great, and the movie is entertaining. It won't be a film that will stay with you long after viewing it, but it's one that's certainly worth a look.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Quartet' arrives on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly standard case, which houses the disc and an insert advertisement for Lisa Hoffman's line of jewelry and fragrances (she's Dustin's wife, in case you were wondering). The Region A-coded, single layer Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for The Intouchables (which I found amusing, since Francois Cluzet is a dead ringer for Dustin Hoffman), The Artist, and 'The Sapphires'. The menu consists of a video montage of scenes from the movie, with menu options along the bottom of the screen.
'Quartet' was shot on 35mm film, but the grain has been pushed nicely into the background and is barely visible on this Blu-ray release. Details are mostly sharp throughout, and colors are vibrant with just a touch of oversaturation. Hoffman seems to have shot his film a little on the 'warm' side, but skin tones are consistent throughout. Almost every shot of 'Quartet' seems to be filled with a variety of rich colors, which really make the movie enjoyable to watch in HD. It's a very nice transfer that seems to capture the original intent of the director.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track delivers exactly how one would expect it to, with the dialogue portions of the film coming from the front speakers, and the rear speakers jumping into play during the musical performances in the movie (including when the movie's score kicks in). Directionality isn't really used very much, but everything is properly balanced with no obvious glitches. A French Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also available, as are subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
'Quartet' isn't a movie you're likely to watch over and over again, nor does Anchor Bay provide us with a release containing the kind of bonus materials that would warrant owning this movie. However, for first-time filmmaker Dustin Hoffman, this is a more than respectable showing, with some great performances and solid cinematography. At the very least, it's worth checking out once – meaning this one's recommended, but for a rental only.