Why should we be surprised that Christopher Walken is a brilliant dramatic actor, with rooms full of darkness stored behind that comic face? He stunned us in “The Deer Hunter” and ” A View to Kill.” He mesmerized us as a damaged psychic in “The Dead Zone” and “The Dogs of War.”

But then he opened that comedy door in “Batman Returns,” “Hairspray,” and “Annie Hall.” He went on Saturday Night Live with one comic turn after another, and left us in ruins. We loved Christopher Walken. We love Christopher now.

And here he is again, in a film that stars three other fine actors giving beautiful performances, deserving of multiple awards. And Christopher, in a supporting role, walks effortlessly to the foreground, and the blinding light of his charisma dims the glow on all others. I’m not sure director Yaron Zilberman intended it to be so, but he should have known.

Now we have “A Late Quartet,” the story of four professional classical musicians. The cello is in the gifted hands of Peter (Walken) the patriarch of the group, a semi-withdrawn widower. These are his once youthful friends, who have grown from separate threads in music school to blend into one solid individual rope of beauty.

Robert Gelbart (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is second chair violin, with rumblings of ego bubbling up from the past. He longs to alternate second and first chair with Daniel Lerner, (Mark Ivanir) the strongest force in the group, who virtually commands all. The fact that Juliette,(Catherine Keener) Robert’s long suffering wife, and Daniel were once, –many years ago — young lovers, hides in the corners of all their lives like a tiny unblinking piece of light.

And then there is Alexandra (a glowing Imogen Poots), a talented musician and child of the new world, with simmering passions and an eye for Daniel, who is her teacher.

Now, as they prepare for a great world tour, discordant notes appear in the decade’s long harmony. Robert’s ambitions, fueled by advice from a winter’s jogging partner, Pilar (Liraz Charhi), a classical Spanish dancer, grow stronger. We are not surprised a bit that Pilar will bring some Castilian heat into the chilly world these four have long grown accustomed to, toast some toes and singe some hearts.

Tensions grow, and Juliette, who in her 20s was Daniel’s lover, finds herself caught between the present and the past. She joins the others in denying Robert his dream, which will open a moment of infidelity that will further threaten the much- awaited tour. Yes, complications of the heart, of Chekovian size abound.

Again, we meet daughter Alexandra who will soon have her moment on stage. Since her teenage years she has been Daniel’s student, and now with discord bouncing all about what was once an oasis of classical calm, a new glimmer of attraction appears in the wrong place, at the wrong time and threatens to shatter all.

Yaron Zilberman, a well-known documentarian, (Watermarks) directs all of these movements with delicate grace and charm. Wisely, he breaks open all of the confining studio and rehearsal scenes, and takes his players into the winter streets of Manhattan for brief encounters and moments of painful truth.

Classical music fans will no doubt recognize the artistry of the famous Brentano String Quartet who lend their gifts to the actors, giving the movie its core with Beethoven’s Quartet in C sharp minor (Op. 131), known to musicians for the punishing seven movements played out without a pause.

The inimitable Catherine Keener, Phillip Hoffman and Mark Ivanir form a perfect quartet, each one hitting every note beautifully. It’s a delight to watch them at work, handling their instruments as though they actually know what they are doing. Imogen Poots draws her Alexandra in bold strokes, and has some wonderful moments.

And then there is Christopher, the great Christopher who can, with a glance, a gesture, a sigh or cough, make us laugh or cry. How Shakespeare would have loved to have had him with his players.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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