By Aaron Isenstein

A Fascinating Exploration of Power Led by a Powerhouse Performance

The icon, the legend, the moment. I could use all of these terms to describe both Cate Blanchett and the fictional composer she portrays, Lydia Tár (the namesake of Todd Field’s transcendent return to cinema). The first time I watched the TÁR trailer, I had to Google if this was a biopic. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Todd Field is just that good at character writing and world building. After winning the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival and being unquestionably one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year with a jaw-dropping 91 on Metacritic, I was eagerly counting down the minutes to see it. After months of anticipation, on a rainy Sunday night, it was finally my time to venture to the theater and see TÁR with my own eyes. And what can I say? Todd Field and Cate Blanchett can simply do no wrong.

While I expected to love TÁR based on its reception by critics and friends, I was still somehow astonished by its quality. TÁR could have felt like a generic biopic held together with tape, string, and an astonishing performance, or your standard “obsessed artist” piece. However, thanks to Todd Field’s magnificent direction and Cate Blanchett giving what is perhaps her career-best performance (something I do not say lightly, as Blanchett is one of the most stupendous actresses working today), TÁR becomes far more than either limiting premise. Besides the opening credits (an homage to the technical crew behind the film), the first thing the viewer is treated to is an interviewer reading every single one of Tár’s accomplishments. Not only does Field save the audience from an extra 30 minutes of backstory, but we’re also quickly introduced to Tár, her worldview, and her life. We’re immediately told how important she is, which heightens her eventual downfall later on in the film.

By the end, TÁR shines as an examination of power in the modern world. The world Field creates is scarily accurate to today’s: a social media-driven post COVID society. Every way Tár’s world falls apart is evocative of events today. Without going into spoilers, Lydia’s downfall is eerily similar to that of a recently disgraced celebrity. It should be noted, however, that while TÁR is not “anti-cancel culture,” it does delve deeply into its effects. Alongside the lies spread about her, Lydia deals with the truth of her life coming out and haunting her.

This is where Field’s masterful direction comes in. Field carefully directs scenes where the audience cannot help but root for Tár. He and Blanchett masterfully manipulate the viewer into questioning Tár’s innocence, despite the film explicitly stating what she did and did not do. Todd Field’s direction is truly an achievement for the ages, down to the minute details. Fascinatingly, for a film about music with a legend like Hildur Guðnadóttir composing, the only usage of music is diegetic. Unless Tár is conducting an orchestra gloriously or listening to music, there is no music present. While most movies would have music while a character takes a jog, all you can hear is the sounds around her. This completely immerses the viewer into Tár’s life and the world around her.

The people around her consist of her symphony, her assistant Francesca (Noemie Merlant), and her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss). Both actresses are perfectly subtle with their impeccable facial expressions. After Tár’s fall from grace, Sarah and Francesca have to deal with the repercussions of her actions. While neither of them are particularly showy, they are undeniably fantastic.

If there's one suggestion I can give the film industry, it’s to put Cate Blanchett in more suits and let her scream more. While TÁR would’ve been great no matter who starred in it, Cate Blanchett brings it to an unmatchable level and delivers one of the best performances of the decade. She and Todd Field elevate an already breathtaking story into one of the best films of the year.