Tár (2022) Movie Review

Director: Todd Field
Writers: Todd Field
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss

Tar is unfathomably provocative in nearly inexplicable ways. At a passing glance, it’s a film about consequences. It’s a film about the tarnishing of legacy and the moral quandary between separating art from an artist.

As the film presses on, it also manages to press deeper. It frames guilt as a spectral figure that dances unspoken between scenes. It begs the character at its center to confront it, to acknowledge that it exists, and in turn be frightened of it.

It’s an anxiety-inducing film in many ways primarily because it methodically distances the audience from its central message for a large portion of the runtime. It wants to plant the audience in the shoes of its protagonist, unconcerned with the haunting presence of a guilty conscience until the narrative slowly works it to the forefront.

The structure of the film becomes its greatest triumph as it maneuvers itself in ways that skate around its thesis so as to say, ‘Lydia Tar cannot confront that right now so neither can you.’ This unveiling pronounces the audience’s own guilty conscience. Audiences and I say this with love as I am one of them, are easily impressed.

If we’re told a character is good at something, we’re far more willing to forgive them for transgressions than we care to admit. Think of how easily one can root for Don Draper despite his stubborn misogyny. Or Walter White. Or even Tony Soprano. Deeply flawed men who are incredibly effective at what they do whether it be telling stories to sell products, crafting chemistry or fighting for the wholeness of one’s family (you may argue that Tony isn’t very good at that, but on the contrary, he keeps people in his life far more effectively than say Paulie would).

My point here is that our introduction to Lydia is deliberate. It is precise and it is conceived meticulously through her lens. She wants her story told this way. And it is only through the slow reveal of an adept script that she must be forced to confront flaws within herself just as we, the audience, are forced to confront flaws in the person we once respected. It’s marked by a truly impressive performance from Cate Blanchett—one of the greatest actors of all time—as she commands the screen with a dominant presence that pulls away to reveal the facade.

Critiquing Tar is difficult because the film is very intentional even about the things that may rub an audience the wrong way. It is overlong, but it is deliberately designed in such a way as to acclimate the audience to its spectral presence just beyond the frame. It’s overwritten in some instances, but this is also intentional to derive some justification for the perceived brilliance of the character at its center.

I push and pull watching Tar between whether or not I am enjoying it or merely respecting it. But to craft, a film as meticulously dense as this renders my personal experience irrelevant. Tar is a triumph in the objectivity of my analysis, and therefore I must succumb to its genius. 9.5/10

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