Set in the pretentious NPR world of the classical music scene, Cate Blanchett (in her best performance since “Blue Jasmine”) plays Lydia Tár; an American woman who is acknowledged as the greatest living composer-conductor.
Like a long-form piece of classical music, there is purposeful structure and pacing to this story and how writer/director Todd Field chooses to tell it, which admittedly will not be for everyone. For the first hour or so nothing of substantial plot driven note happens, as we follow Tár during her daily interactions; which isn’t as uninteresting as it sounds. This first half establishes Tár as a steely, no nonsense, musical genius, getting ready for a book launch while directing a major German orchestra. To be honest, this film contains such little plot during this section that I was very unsure what it had to say about anything until nearly forty minutes in, when Tár has her first combative encounter with a self-proclaimed BIPOC student and her true nature flashes. The second half really kick-starts the actual story, as Tár is ripped from her insulated world of celebrity upon the emergence of the #MeToo movement. This half (though predictable) because of the “ripped from the headlines” subject matter, does allow for a deeper investment into seeing what becomes of this most unlikeable character.
This is a movie about systemic unchecked power within wealthy white liberal communities. This is also a movie which asks if it is at all possible to separate the art from the artist. But the biggest reason why “Tár” is completely rewatchable despite its pacing, is that it’s a two hour and thirty-eight-minute figurative disemboweling of an abusive narcissist, spearheaded by an award worthy lead performance from Blanchett.
Blanchett’s performance is perfection. I can’t believe I’ve gone this far into my review without dying on this hill it, as she is the best thing about “Tár”. She plays this undemonstrative character we are meant to hate, but still find prolonged interest in, and does it in a way which allows audiences to clearly understand how we are to feel about her actions and responses during every second she is on screen. And Field’s direction is a superb compliment in the way that he frames her in a mostly ultra-sterile world, allowing us to hyperfocus on the smallest detailed and purposeful movement Blanchett has to offer.
Final Thought: Since this a portrayal of a fictionalized figure and where this film ends up comes straight from the mind of Todd Field, the final thirtyish minutes does become a bit too overworked and nearly too silly for the subject matter. While I understand that there is a point about so called “cancel culture” which Field is attempting to drive home, the ending comes off as a prolonged punchline that while technically makes sense, leaves what was left hypnotically subtle in the first two hours, unnecessarily forced in the final act as the hammer comes out and strikes the point home again and again and again. With that said, if “Tár” were only a two-hour film, it would clearly be one of my top ten films of the year.
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