Set in a post-apocalyptic winter, Robert Altman's Quintet tells the story of Essex, a man who along with his wife, wander across the desolate, frozen landscape of this apocalyptic nightmare. Searching for Essex's brother, Francha, the couple finally locate him in a frozen city where survivors seek refuge. The people of this city live day to day off of scavenged firewood and a minimal diet with their only solace being in Quintet, a innocuous board game for six players. When Francha is killed, Essex seeks to find the men responsible, only to see him drawn deeper into the lethal competition of Quintet. It's hard to say any film from Robert Altman is terrible, but Quintet certainly puts this ideal to the test. Quintet is certainly self-assured, featuring a slow pace, incredibly detailed production design, diverse cast, and plenty of philosophical musings. It's a film that without question has something to say but together with tepid pacing, and Altman's lethargic cinematography, it grows tiresome fast. Quintet seems to be some type of allegory possibly targeted towards bureaucrats who too often forget about the true power of life and death, but unfortunately the film so muddled, making it hard to make out Altman's true voice. The strongest aspect of Quintet would be it's production design, along with some of the photography, but almost everything else misses the mark. Paul Newman's performance as Essex deserves consideration for the worst performance every committed to celluloid, making me begin to question whether he had any idea what was going on during filming. Robert Altman's Quintet is a rare miss from the highly influential filmmaker that at times tries to mimic the equally opaque, allegorical, Last Year at Marienbad, but sadly misses the mark.
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