REVIEW: ‘Tár’ Crafts A Compelling Symphony of Self-Destruction

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Tar - But Why Tho

Tár, written and directed by Todd Field, pulls its audience in from the very first scene and doesn’t let go. That scene features composer Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) asleep in a private plane, a mask shielding her weary eyes. The plane’s other occupant has their phone raised, a string of texts flying across it – and none of them have positive things to say about her. From there, the film starts to explore Lydia’s life. She’s an extremely gifted composer, having scored awards and accolades throughout the years, including achieving EGOT status. While preparing for a live recording of Mahler’s 5th Symphony, secrets from Lydia’s past come to light, threatening to tear down everything she’s worked so hard to build.

Society excels at building people up for their talents. We admire folks for their writing, their musical ability, or that one thing that separates them from the pack. At the same time, we also relish any chance to tear someone down from that same pedestal. Tár explores that freefall, starting with a New Yorker interview that runs down Lydia’s career and then slowly shows how her past actions wind up being her own downfall. This journey is so engrossing that the film’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime just flies by, and the final scene will have film fans talking for a while.

Field scored the right actress for the titular lead, with Blanchett delivering what has to be one of her best performances yet. What’s always amazed me about Blanchett’s acting is that she disappears into every role she plays, no matter the genre of film or the nature of that role. This continues with Tár. She plays a woman who commands respect and has a deep love of music, yet can often be cold, closed off, and intimidating. A key example comes when Lydia learns that her daughter is being bullied at school. She finds the bully, corners her, and intimidates her into silence. This scene, in addition to being extremely intense, is a key hint that there’s a seed of truth to the allegations surrounding Lydia. Blanchett’s unpredictability makes Lydia a compelling character. It acknowledges that she’s done wrong but also explores what she’s going through emotionally.

Another choice that sets the film apart from the pack is how Field chooses to shoot it. Lydia is often shown at a distance, not just from her wife/concertmaster Sharon (Nina Hoss) and assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant), but literally, as many shots pull away from her. It’s a great visual choice that emphasizes just how alone Lydia really is, and how far she has yet to fall. Cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister composes some stunning imagery throughout the film, including a series of recurring nightmares that plague Lydia. Compared to the rest of the film, these are filled with surreal imagery including a flaming bed and a series of faces emerging from inky black shadows.

But the real standout is the music, which isn’t surprising given that this is a film about music. Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score contains some hauntingly beautiful strings, rising and falling depending on the scene. And the sound department, particularly sound editor Matis Rei, gives weight to every sound. When Lydia searches herself on the internet, the clicking of keys fills the screen along with a flurry of web pages. When she falls flat on her face, there’s a sickening crunch. And the rapping of knuckles on wood feels like a gunshot. I haven’t seen a movie that utilizes sound to as great of an effect since The Sound of Metal.

Tár is a compellingly crafted symphony of self-destruction, featuring a magnetic performance from Cate Blanchett and a thoughtful story. It’s also a great reminder that fame is a precarious thing: one minute you’re on top of the world and then you come crashing down to the ground. Like any good concert, it starts off with small notes and then builds to a rousing crescendo that will leave you breathless.

Tár is playing now in theaters nationwide.


Tár
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

Tár is a compellingly crafted symphony of self-destruction, featuring a magnetic performance from Cate Blanchett and a thoughtful story. It’s also a great reminder that fame is a precarious thing: one minute you’re on top of the world and then you come crashing down to the ground. Like any good concert, it starts off with small notes and then builds to a rousing crescendo that will leave you breathless.

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