Blanchett Is Phenomenal In Todd Field’s Riveting, Powerful Drama

Jan 3, 2023

Home Movie Reviews Tar Review: Blanchett Is Phenomenal In Todd Field’s Riveting, Powerful Drama

While the film isn’t preachy, Tár is all the more riveting because it is so focused on telling a layered, nuanced, and powerful story.

Cate Blanchett in Tár

Tár may just be one of the best films of the year. Written and directed by Todd Field, the film — a drama about the downfall of a world-renowned classical music composer/conductor — boasts a masterful performance from Cate Blanchett. Tár ponders whether the art can be separated from the artist, a question that has long plagued the minds of anyone who has ever consumed entertainment made by someone who has committed certain, sometimes unforgivable, acts. While the film isn’t preachy, nor is Field consumed with laying down a moral gavel, Tár is all the more riveting because it is so focused on telling a layered, nuanced, and powerful story.

Lydia Tár (Blanchett) is a conductor and classical music composer who has everything going for her. Lydia is at the height of her career — a glowing New Yorker article has been published about her importance, she is a guest lecturer at Juilliard, she’s in the midst of promoting her new memoir, and has composed new music to be performed at the Berlin Philharmonic where she is a conductor, the first woman to achieve such a renowned and highly coveted position. However, when Lydia’s assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) reveals that Krista, a young woman from both of their pasts, has been emailing Lydia in the hopes for a response, Lydia’s prestigious and well-managed life begins to unravel as new information comes to light and threatens to upend her entire career.

Related: Nina Hoss & Sophie Kauer Discuss The Beauty Of Tár’s Music

Cate Blanchett in Tár

Tár, much like its lead character, is tightly controlled. It’s a masterclass in storytelling, one that aims to explore an egotistical figure at the crossroads of power, gender, and influence in the music industry. The choice to focus on a woman in such a position to abuse her power is an interesting one considering how much more likely it is for a man to do so given they are more often the ones in Lydia’s place. However, Field’s decision allows the story to explore Lydia’s class anxiety and white feminism — the conductor comes from a working class family, and she sets up several programs to encourage young women studying classical music, but it’s all for show and to ensure Lydia is named the first woman to do such a thing. There’s also scene early on in the film where Lydia suggests she didn’t face any challenges as a woman in the industry and then suggests to one of her investors that the programs for women should be removed because it’s been long enough. Most of what Lydia does is to remain in power, or as close to it as possible no matter what.

As the film goes on and viewers witness her relationships with the young women under her tutelage, audiences get a sense of exactly the kind of person Lydia is, and the ways in which she uses her power to manipulate people and situations. Tár does not purport to be an ethical guide, nor does it really sympathize with Lydia. Rather, the film is more a look at how someone in her position might meet their reputable doom, as well as an exploration of someone who is high on their own power and sense of importance. It’s a bold and intriguing character study that doesn’t hold back on its subject matter, building towards a crescendo that will leave audiences in awe of what they have just witnessed. The film allows viewers to ponder those in power and how their art is viewed when contemplating the artists and their complicated history — be it wholly indecent or otherwise.

Noémie Merlant in Tár

Cate Blanchett’s powerhouse performance elevates the film from excellent to must-see. Blanchett has always been a strong actress, but she brings her A-game to Tár. She showcases the grip Lydia has on her life, the ways in which she keeps people at arm’s length, and the controlled sense of domination she exudes. Even as Lydia’s hold over her career becomes tenuous, and she begins to lose control over her own narrative, Blanchett’s nuanced portrayal brilliantly captures her character’s cracking shell and the boiling temper and fear that sits beneath the surface. It’s safe to say that Tár is one of Blanchett’s most enthralling performances of her career.

At over two and a half hours long, Tár never feels long, and it’s engrossing at every turn. Field’s film is intoxicating in all the best ways, emotionally visceral and captivating. While Blanchett is the obvious standout, the supporting cast is wonderful, their performances complementing her calculated intensity in every scene. With Tár being so immersed in the world of classical music, it would be remiss to go without mentioning the spectacular score by Hildur Guðnadóttir, which is crucial to the film’s execution. Watching Tár is akin to listening to a symphony orchestra — it’s moving, passionate, and will leave one wanting more long after the lights come up.

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Tár released in limited theaters Friday, October 7 and will expand nationwide on October 28. The film is 158 minutes long and is rated R for some language and brief nudity.

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