Movies like "Tár" seem to come along once every awards season. It's a stylish, yet self-indulgent, overlong, character-driven epic. It features an award-worthy performance at its center. Some will call it a "masterpiece."
For me however, "Tár" falls way short of that top-tier status. That's not to take anything away from the performance of Cate Blanchett, who is truly fantastic as the influential (and fictional!) composer, Lydia Tár. Like a classic orchestral arrangement, the film builds slowly until it finally hits the crescendo, before soaring through its final act. Blanchett is there in the middle of it all, a great actress keeping the tempo of the film as steady as she can.
And while "Tár" ends up being worth the trek in the end, the first 90 minutes of this colossal 158-minute opus is such a dreary, artsy slog, that I could see casual movie-goers wanting to head out the doors early. For those that do stay however (mostly film critics), they will be rewarded - critics and regular folk alike - mostly, by seeing how Blanchett sticks the landing.
To steal a quote from "The Usual Suspects": "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Well, the best achievement that writer/director Todd Field ("Little Children," "In the Bedroom") makes with his film "Tár" is the exact opposite of this: Field convinces the world that Lydia Tár DOES exist, when in fact, she does not. It's hard to square this with just how authentic Field's world feels...I don't know much about composers or orchestras, but "Tár" lowers you right into the pit. It's a world of artists, but like everything else, it is deformed by the influence of outside politics and several players jockeying for power.
Unless you fancy yourself a classical musician though, you probably won't realize that Lydia is a fictional character, and when they tell you she's one of very few EGOT Winners (those with an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), you'll believe it.
So if not a true story, what is Field trying to tell us with "Tár"? The movie follows his main character, a giant in the industry, as she assumes the duties of head composer of the famed Berlin Philharmonic. It weaves her professional life with her personal life, as a past scandal bubbles up and threatens to tear down everything she has built. Like all great artists, she has many vices - one of which being an affinity for talented young women - and almost always, they present obstacles on the path to true greatness.
This seems to be an intriguing tale of cancel culture, of how terrible it must be to reach the top of your preferred profession. There have been many films about geniuses, and how difficult it is for them to make sense of a world that in many ways, operates beneath them. It is a fascinating glimpse into a scarcely undiscovered world that not too many people know, or even care about. But I'm not sure Lydia Tár will be the person who makes movie-goers interested in the world of classic music...you may love the performance, and still find the character of Lydia Tár to be a cold, distant point of entry.
Field is clearly mesmerized by the brilliance of the character Blanchett creates,
but clutters the film with avant-garde touches and frankly, a lot of mindless nonsense. Some of my favorite movies are over 3 hours, but for a movie to be that long, it needs to be justified. "Tár" is nearly 3 hours, and for no particular reason other than to allow Field to bloat what might have been a more effective, tighter film, had someone reigned him in.
Despite the disappointments, there is still a lot to like. But casual movie-goers beware of this, the latest "critics movie."
"Tár" would be nothing without the all-in performance of Cate Blanchett, one of the best of our time playing one of the best of all-time. No wonder she is able to relate.
Genre: Drama, Music.
Run Time: 2 hours 38 minutes.
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Noemie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Mark Strong.
Written and Directed by Todd Field ("Little Children," "In the Bedroom").
"Tár" is in theaters on Friday, October 21st, 2022.
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