Quartet: Tale Of Hoffman 

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Quartet
Directed by Dustin Hoffman

Dustin Hoffman was one of the most serious-minded film actors of the 70s and 80s, fiercely ambitious and so stubbornly dedicated to acting as an art that his ego sometimes outstripped his talent. Though he’s been coasting as an actor for a while now, it's still surprising that his directorial debut should be such an unambitious trifle. This modest adaptation of a mediocre play about a rest home for retired musicians is such a nothing on a script level that it’s hard to see why Hoffman was excited enough to want to make it into a movie. Like several other films this year (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, All Together), Quartet is content to gather a group of aged actors and then give them nothing to do but quietly bicker with each other, as if they weren’t up to much more than that.

Maggie Smith, who headlines Quartet, is one of our greatest living actresses, yet in her film parts of recent years she has only been asked to do a patented specialty act: she behaves imperiously and says bitchy things sotto voce. Her Acid Queen shtick has become repetitive, especially when the material is as threadbare as it is here. Smith is a woman who once did battle with Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre, an artist who gave one of the all-time great film performances in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987). In silent close-ups in Quartet, Smith signals to the camera that she is more than ready to go deeper for us and offer an unsparing portrait of anger, old age and regret. Hoffman, of all people, should have respect enough for Smith to give her something meatier to chew on.

Opens January 11

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