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NYFF Review: ‘TÁR’

Cate Blanchett in Tár
Photo Courtesy of Focus Features

After a lengthy hiatus from being behind the camera, director Todd Field returns with TÁR, a thrilling and captivating psychological character study that dissects the snowballing of cancel culture and sees Cate Blanchett absolutely command the screen.

Blanchett plays Lydia Tár, a renowned female composer/conductor who has garnered a strong reputation for her immense talent and swift determination and made her the first female chief conductor of a major German orchestra. Although Lydia is amid a major career achievement, past controversies as well as Lydia’s underlying toxic behavior start to resurface, putting her professional and personal lives on the brink of ruin. A key part to TÁR being a captivating and continuously engaging watch is undoubtedly Blanchett’s performance.

When talking about casting Blanchett, Field mentioned that he wrote the role with her solely in mind and thought no one could really match what she brings to the role. After seeing TÁR, it’s tough to argue with him because Blanchett is a dominant force and possibly delivers her strongest performance to date. Her line-delivery and screen presence are full of ferocious wit and calculated power that is endlessly entrancing. Any time that Lydia establishes power in a conversation or takes control, Blanchett evokes this cold yet somehow likable force that’s just mesmerizing to watch. The way Lydia uses her experience and prolific legacy in music as well as her tough-willed way of talking to people, including a child bullying her daughter, makes every scene thrilling to watch. Field absolutely deserves credit for creating a character like Lydia, but it’s Blanchett who makes her captivating—especially as she ends up in hot water.

As the truth of Lydia’s past and current actions come to light, Blanchett leaves you completely on edge with how she tries to hold her life together as it starts to crumble apart. The slow breakdown of this character is a total thrill ride that takes some unexpected turns and Blanchett masterfully elevates these moments in the psychological aspects of this story. The way that Lydia goes from being seemingly untouchable to completely helpless is wild to see and Blanchett brings out such strong and palpable emotion to make this story leave a sharp impact. It’s even more compelling to watch Lydia because she’s very aware of her actions ultimately making her a morally complex character. With how Blanchett absolutely takes full control of the film with this searing and intensely engrossing performance, there’s no reason to doubt that she’s on her way to her third Oscar win.

Blanchett isn’t the only shining aspect of TÁR though, as Field’s direction and story have a thematic impact that’s equally captivating. The build-up of Lydia’s dominating presence in her profession is incredibly fascinating and the high-minded conversations about music manage to stay grounded. The introduction to Lydia instantly makes you intrigued by her and as the film explores Lydia’s personal and professional world, you only find yourself more invested as the story unfolds. Field also plants these small story seeds throughout that touch on Lydia’s personal views that tie to her career as well as some of her burning secrets that foreshadow the things that will ultimately ruin her. Plus, watching the snowball of Lydia’s toxic past and present build before your very eyes is immensely thrilling and delivers a thought-provoking tale that defines current culture.

Now, the film can lose a bit of objectivity, making its themes not as rich as they could’ve been. For instance, it’s pretty obvious early on that Lydia is guilty of what she’s going to be accused of in how she tries to hide things and brush off clear issues. Thus, by the time things finally start to come to light, it’s not that shocking to see who she really is, and it doesn’t exactly emulate the way stories like this break on social media. Basically, TÁR goes for a more behind the scenes perspective with cancel culture and it’s not a perspective that most outsiders, mainly the general public, can have in these situations, making the themes feel limited in how it can apply to most viewers. Thus, the takeaway doesn’t always feel as strong. However, TÁR’s depiction of cancel culture and problematic legacies still leaves a deep impact and offers some great food for thought.

Field finds great, organic ways for conversations surrounding legacy and modern perspective to exist in TÁR and the film deeply explores different aspects of social culture. The idea of whether we can separate the art from the artist is expanded upon well through delving into the modern debate of protecting and preserving the legacies of problematic historic figures. Lydia is at the center of this debate as she deals with the problematic nature of the people that influenced her and the changing perspectives of the times. There’s a scene in a classroom that’s really enthralling to watch and think on because of how it directly tackles these ideas and comes back in an interesting way to show cancel culture in action and the shifting nature of perspective and power.

Also, her story touches on her own problematic qualities with how she uses her power to not only stay in power, but keep others out—especially when they have an issue with her. TÁR’s dissection of social and cancel culture is mainly effective because of the moral ambiguity it achieves with its characters. While it might struggle to not lean in a certain direction of guilt for Lydia, everyone else leaves you thinking about their own action/inaction of what they know and how they handle the truth behind Lydia’s actions. It’s especially interesting to see how Lydia’s family life starts to suffer from her actions and the truth coming out, largely because of how strong and memorable Nina Hoss is as Lydia’s wife, Shannon.

Overall, TÁR is a great meditation on cancel culture and offers a lot of great, thought-provoking moments that widen your perspective on current social culture and presents some standout aspects of its character study that represent problematic uses of power. Field can’t be complimented enough for crafting both a swiftly engaging story and showing Blanchett at her best.

Tár is now playing in select theaters.

Tom Moore
Tom Moorehttps://mooreviews.com/
Tom is always ready to see and review everything horrifying and hilarious that hits theaters, television, and video games...sometimes. You can check out his other reviews and articles on his blog, Mooreviews.

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