They can’t all conduct. It’s not a democracy.

Cate Blanchett transfixes her audience in every frame of Tar, playing the fictional maestro Lydia Tar, who as a conductor and composer has reached the echelon of her craft and whose persona has achieved a rarified celebrity status. Todd Field, who has been absent for fifteen years, returns to the director chair and reestablishes himself as a premier actor’s director. He’s wise to let Blanchett own this. It is her film more than anything, though Field’s meddling fingerprints tar the film’s impact.

Tar is befuddled by long seemingly unending scenes of dialog about music, art, fame, and the sometimes unethical proclivities of geniuses who have been showered with praise to where they are no longer able to check their own power. The cold, academic ramblings aren’t without some interest, but they come from a place of privilege and arrogance. Field seems to be commenting on so-called cancel culture, but not in any kind of informed or enlightened way. There’s a lot of talk about separating the art from the artist, and it’s never made clear how far Lydia’s transgressions actually went, but Field seems to think none of it matters, and the art should stand on its own.

Frustratingly, while Blanchett’s performance certainly takes on a life of its own, Field never lets the music do the same. As Lydia’s tortured psyche begins to unravel under the pressure of her work and the accusations against her, everything seems poised to crescendo in a haunted performance of Mahler’s 5th symphony. As a fan of this piece, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to hear it finally, in spite of the questionable proclivities of both Lydia and the film’s director.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say I was extremely disappointed. Ultimately the film says nothing of note, and it doesn’t even have the decency to treat us to the Mahler its bloated, almost three-hour runtime, falsely promised. Lydia is moved to tears thinking about how the music is supposed to make the listener feel things beyond words. Sadly Tar left me feeling not much of anything except a cold indifference.

Review by D. H. Schleicher



  1. You were disappointed, and so was I. I was expecting more music scenes but I can see why there aren’t cause Cate Blanchett is an actor, not a musician and definitely not a conductor, as your title appropriately stated, so there can’t be too many scenes of ‘real’ music in there. A lopsided film for the ‘supporting’ Nina Hoss, who’s excellent in Barbara and Phoenix; Tar doesn’t give her much and it even feels like a spite … cause, it’s a Cate Blanchett movie. On a related note (pun intended), I watched Hoss in The Audition at TIFF19, which offers many brilliant real music scenes. No, Hoss isn’t a violinist, but a teacher (so she doesn’t need to fake it) with a prodigious student who plays Paganini brilliantly, and of course, he’s a real-life talent. At first I thought Tar would be a close match, if not better, than The Audition, but it just came unstrung (again, pun intended) for me. Unfortunately, The Audition didn’t get the chance to release in theatres, not in North America I don’t think.

    • Hoss is a great actress. Phoenix was unforgettable. I wouldn’t say she was wasted here (it was a relatively large supporting role, and she provided plenty of her trademark nuance), but someone of her caliber deserves more. The film as a whole, on all levels, was quietly frustrating. Yet, impecabbly crafted as well.

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