© 2024 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Tár' is a very, very good movie that prevents itself from being great

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár, in TÁR, from writer-producer-director Todd Field
Focus Features
Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár, in TÁR, from writer-producer-director Todd Field

If you’ve heard of Tár, then you’ve almost certainly heard it described as the “cancel culture” movie, although this is the least interesting part of a film that is mostly fascinating, and then a little disappointing. It doesn’t so much collapse under its own weight as deflate a bit.

The film stars Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár, a world-renowned musician, ethnomusicologist, and the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. As the movie opens, Lydia is being interviewed in front of a large audience, and though she makes gestures in the direction of humility when her long list of bona fides is read, it’s quite clear she’s at least as impressed with herself as the audience is. We see how Lydia interacts with other people—she’s not overtly monstrous, but she is far, far above it all, and she can be casually cruel. As her wife tells her, nearly every relationship Lydia has is purely transactional.

We also start to see the subtle ways she abuses her power, and how those eventually explode, causing Lydia to lose her position, and this is where the film stumbles. Up to that point, we see a deeply absorbing, nuanced study of Lydia Tár, one that causes us to reckon with the balance between a person’s art and their actions in ways that continually surprise us. And then it all just falls into expected clichés, even in the way the camera moves. Lydia stops behaving like a real person and starts to behave like a person in a movie, and we lose steam. It doesn’t negate what’s come before, but it is a letdown.

Visually, the movie is clean and precise, though, like Lydia, it’s plenty self-satisfied. But the sound design is gorgeous—Lydia is deeply attuned to sound, and we’re given a look into that throughout the film, with the sounds coming at us from all over, in sometimes startling ways. I once wondered who could be knocking so loudly on the theater door.

Tár is a very, very good movie that’s prevented from being great by abandoning its own strengths, trading the surprise and conflict of a difficult subject for a final act that’s simply too familiar.

Tár is in theaters.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.