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Despite Great Performances, 'TÁR' Fails to Hit the High Notes

All the standard downfalls of power, arrogance and fame, the film definitely sees the house come down. But the lead up Todd Field tries to orchestrate doesn’t sync up and becomes a long two hour and 38 minute wait for the end.
Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár in Tár. Courtesy Focus Features.

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár in Tár. Courtesy Focus Features.

If you attend the symphony, the ultimate uplift ends in a crescendo that builds alongside the many waves of the conductor’s baton. In the case of TÁR, Cate Blanchett is holding the stick and director Todd Field is gesturing the flow in a fictional story that follows one of the greats. All the standard downfalls of power, arrogance and fame, the film definitely sees the house come down. But the lead up Field tries to orchestrate doesn’t sync up and becomes a long two hour and 38 minute wait for the end.

Relatively speaking, TÁR does get off to a rousing start. Lydia Tár is giving an interview with the actual Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker and even though most of us don’t know enough about the symphony and all the history behind the music, Blanchett rivets here and throughout. So despite lacking the knowledge to truly understand the nuances, we feel the passion, the expertise and the limitless desire to share with those who ooze with a similar mindset.

But her appeal is meant to start descending from there. Guest teaching at Juilliard, the composer attempts to provoke one of her students out of his woke mindset and doesn’t get the desired result.

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She pushes too hard to get the student to walk in the shoes of the “patriarchal Bach,” and lacking much of a backbone, the neophyte retreats in search of a safe space. A bit cliched, the escapade still shows the preeminence that fuels Lydia’s dysfunction as a human being, and her certainty that she is the final authority.

Far from done, exposition is revealed through the expressive and taciturn performance of Noémie Merlant. Francesca is Lydia’s personal assistant, and while the questionable behavior of her boss is still largely hidden, we can see how satisfying the job requirements have taken a toll.

A brief flashback to a young woman named Krista seems particularly troubling and whatever the relationship to Lydia, Francesca’s grimaces cannot hide how it weighs on her conscience.

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Of course, with Lydia’s character in question, she will by nature put herself above the good of the company. First, Lydia eyes the replacement of the assistant conductor, and her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss) or Francesca are the potential candidates.

Expertly manipulative, Lydia knows her way around the chamber and soon sets her sights on elevating Olga (Sophie Kauer). A young woman who has caught more than the conductor’s ear, Lydia’s past implies she won’t hesitate to take advantage.

So from Sharon to the assistant conductor to the players counting on the integrity of their leader - resistance is futile. Stuck in her trap, the presentation of the discord all seems very real.

In rehearsal, at Lydia’s home with wife and child, and in discussion behind the scenes, you feel yourself in this foreign setting, while the acting conveys the hurt, the betrayal and the power base it emanates from.

Troubling for sure, the intramural squabbling of a symphony orchestra doesn’t move the needle all that much, and fails to reach the level of a Harvey Weinstein.

On the other hand, the tension may have led more seamlessly to a critical mass by slicing off a third of the script. Altogether, the so-called build-up is more ho-hum than headline stealing.

[UNDERSTANDING SCREENWRITING: A Great Read, and Some Sundries.]

Until Lydia’s soulless pursuit of her desires are fully revealed, and two hours in, there’s a relief that something has finally happened. In this case, Lydia’ previous relationship with the barely mentioned Krista comes to the fore and threatens to completely unravel Lydia’s personal and professional life.

Of course, serious MeToo issues are up for consideration but truly furthering the discussion means approaching the subject from a different angle. Not here, a powerfully abusive man is simply being replaced by a powerfully abusive lesbian, and the substitution probably isn’t a fair one-to-one relationship.

Either way, it’s a long time to wait, and once again, the plot points aren’t binding enough to become overly invested in Lydia’s inevitable descent. You could say the movie doesn’t really hit the high notes, and by the time we get the big, bold climax, which suddenly feels like a contact sport, you can’t help wonder if you read the starting time wrong.

TÁR is now playing in select Theaters.


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