Movie Review: Tár

One-liner: a seemingly effortless lead performance and engaging docudrama storytelling realise this silky, timely yet cautionary character portrait.

Tár is a fictional chronicle of one of the greatest living composer-conductors, who navigates the international world of Western classical music. Lydia Tár is the subject of this psychological music drama, whose seemingly untouchable ego and self-destructive tendencies eventually catch up with her.

Taking its time to immerse audiences by way of a reality-soaking interview, the EGOT winner’s established on the back of a comprehensive to exhaustive biographical introduction. Starting in an old-fashioned way with the score and opening credits, this deliberately slowed pacing makes it easier to sink into the stripped down Charlie Rose style one-on-one interview as Blanchett becomes Tár. It takes a while to acclimatize to the pacing of this elegant character portrait, but the experience becomes quite mesmerising as the fly-on-the-wall style docudrama finds its rhythm and starts to channel a lifelike flow, intimate and often prickly.

Getting to grips with the character’s station, critical acclaim and precarious personal life, the filmmakers keep an effective tension as Blanchett’s organic, magnetic and versatile performance serves as the golden thread. Having her own style, as a student of Leonard Bernstein’s and admirer of Marin Alsop, Cate Blanchett switches languages just as effortlessly in a richly nuanced and commanding performance.

It’s the kind of lead performance that is further bolstered by the actor’s own acclaim and personal achievements as an artist, making Blanchett one of a handful of performers who could actually even pull it off. While a hot favourite and deserving of an Oscar, one of six nominations for Tár, the runaway success of the Everything, Everywhere All at Once phenomenon took centre stage at this year’s Academy Awards. Maintaining her typical grace, Tár’s underscored by the character’s ego and refreshed by gender and sexual orientation within the field, which creates a multi-layered twist for this fine production.

tar film

“…you’re Lydia Tár, damn it.”

Finding a foothold in a male-dominated role within the classical music scene, the elegant music drama further enhances the portrait by adopting a rise-and-fall story that typically slants towards men who abuse their power. Having played Jude Quinn, a character based on Bob Dylan’s mid-sixties adventures, it isn’t the first role where Blanchett has been cast to toy with convention and push the boundaries of what it means to be called an actor. While Blanchett is the main attraction filtering into almost every scene, there are no weak links, wonderfully supported by Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss and Sophie Kauer.

Tár comes from the mind of writer-director Todd Field, who may have taken some inspiration from the biographical Marin Alsop character portrait documentary, The Conductor. Having written and directed In the Bedroom and Little Children, Field’s film-making has been noteworthy, even if not prolific. Known for working with some high profile actors in Sissy Spacek, Jennifer Connelly and Kate Winslet, it’s not all that surprising to see him collaborating with Cate Blanchett in Tár.

A psychological music drama with an artistic temperament, Tár is far from trying to be a crowd-pleaser. Some of the storytelling requires a bit of detective work as snippets add up to solve an underlying mystery that punctuates the film. Yet, it’s so engaging that it’s difficult not to be entertained, even with a 2.5 hour running time. It’s a joy to be transported by Blanchett’s brilliant performance, swathed in Field’s vision and compelled by slow-boiling drama as absolute power corrupts a soul with real-world consequences. A timely examination, Tár entertains some topical debates, delivering a time bomb character portrait as the film pours from one curious scene to the next with a cumulative effect.

The bottom line: Elemental