After sixteen years, a Todd Field movie is finally going to see the light of day. After a moderately successful and respectable acting career during the late 1980s through the early 2000s, Field decided to make his directorial debut in 2001 with the critically acclaimed In the Bedroom. Five years later, Field struck more acclaim with his adaptation of the Tom Perrotta novel Little Children. As a fan of both of these movies, I went into the screening of his latest with much enthusiasm. After experiencing all that movie has to offer, I found it rather fascinating to see a different side of the director.
His first two movies are more like ensemble affairs. Now, I don’t exactly mean like a Robert Altman ensemble piece, but more scaled down and intimate. Both In the Bedroom and Little Children are character driven pieces, but come across as vivisections of their respected worlds. Where as Tar focuses mostly on one main character and her larger-the-life ego impacts the world around her.
For Field, Tar is most definitely a character study, but one that displays a less intimate and colder approach to his subject. It is a style more a kin to the later works of Stanley Kubrick. Still, I found myself mostly captivated with Tar, and that is mostly due to the transcendent performance of Cate Blanchett. That is not to say that I did not like Field’s “new” style, but I do prefer the way he presents his stories in the his first two movies, as opposed to his more clinical approach here.
Tar presents a very detailed portrait of fictional conductor/composer Lydia Tar (Blanchett). Lydia has also become the first female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and has won multiple awards and other accolades. In addition to her duties with the orchestra, she spends her other time occasionally teaching college students in music and attempts to maintain some semblance of a normal home life with her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss) and their adopted daughter Petra (Mila Bogojevic). Life at the top of one’s career is not perfect, nor is the person who reigns in that position.
Lydia Tar may be well respected as an artist, but is definitely a difficult person to love. As the movie shows various facets of her life and work, one begins to see the cracks and flaws through the seemingly perfect facade. Writer/director Field does a mostly exceptional job of capturing these true-to-life scenarios and make the audience members feel life flies on the wall. While this technique and style doesn’t always work here, there is still much to appreciate how everything comes together in the end. From the gorgeous cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister to the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir, the movie proves to be another fine collaboration by Field and his team.
And while the entire cast plays their parts well, this movie is obviously and appropriately the spotlight where Cate Blanchett can shine outstandingly. Whether the movie presents her alone time, or her various kinds of interactions with others, Blanchett is phenomenal. She should end up in the running for acting accolades come awards season. I feel that it is the best performance I have seen so far from Blanchett, and one that comes after so many other great performances by the actor.
As far the movie is concerned as a whole, I don’t honestly see this film making my top ten list. Even though it is a great work by Todd Field, I feel it pales a little in comparison with his first two movies. While there is much to love and appreciate with Tar, I also think that it runs on too long and could’ve done with some better editing choices. Still, it is a film I highly recommend, particularly for those who fancy the previous films of Todd Field and also have a great appreciation for some of Stanley Kubrick’s movies.