TAR (2022)

October 21, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. I seriously doubt that I’ll ever skip a Cate Blanchett movie. She’s won two Oscars and has been nominated six times. She’s consistently the best part of her movies, and often the best in a full year of movies. Here she stars in the first film in 16 years from the remarkable writer-director Todd Field. His two previous films, LITTLE CHILDREN (2006) and IN THE BEDROOM (2001) combined for eight Oscar nominations, and more importantly, established Mr. Field as a rare and unique filmmaker of great depth. Having Field reappear and cast Blanchett generated a heap of excitement from this film nerd.

Ms. Blanchett stars as Lydia Tar, a piano virtuoso, the conductor of the famed Berlin Orchestra, and a true musical genius. She’s a rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) from the classical field. Her music (and her life) is a quest to uncover/discover what the composer meant with each piece. Lydia is sometimes rough on her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss), but frequently dotes on their young daughter … while otherwise living a relative selfish and self-centered life. We also see this true persona in how she treats her young assistant Francesca (Noemie Merlant), who quietly aspires to become a conductor, while efficiently keeping Lydia on track each day.

The film begins with “New Yorker” writer Adam Gopnik interviewing Lydia as a stage presentation in front of a live audience. It’s his introduction of the Maestra where we learn her background and the proficiency that has garnered her such respect (as well as jealousy and animosity). Throughout the film, many real musicians (past and present) are referenced, and that detailed research is alone enough to earn respect for what Mr. Field has accomplished here. The stress and laser-focus on Lydia as she prepares for the final symphony in her Mahler portfolio (his 5th). We witness the meticulous detail that goes into managing the music and musicians, and this leads to handling the dismissal of veteran who is slipping, and the addition of a brilliant young cellist named Olga (Sophie Kauer). We are never quite sure if Lydia’s attraction to Olga is limited to her skills with the bow.

Of course, any perfectionist at the top of their industry is subject to backlash and criticism. Is Lydia abusive? Is she exploitive? It seems the answers may be affirmative, and likely what drives her art. It’s quite discomforting to watch as she covers her tracks after the suicide of a former pupil, but I’ll admit to a certain feeling of satisfaction as she verbally spars with another student over gender semantics … actions that of course come back to bite her.

Ms. Blanchett is fascinating and mesmerizing to watch. She is at the top of her game playing a perfectionist who is at the top of her game. However, it’s clear this film isn’t likely to strike the right notes with mainstream audiences. It’s an arthouse film about art, and thus is filled with dialogue and much less actual music than you might expect for a film about a world class Orchestra conductor.

Opens in theaters on October 21, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


A MOST WANTED MAN (2014)

July 26, 2014

a most wanted man Greetings again from the darkness. If you aren’t an avid reader of John le Carre’ spy novels, perhaps you’ve seen movie versions such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardener, or The Russia House. If not, how about director Anton Corbijn’s previous film The Amercian (2010 with George Clooney)? The more you’ve read and seen these, the more you are prepared for this latest.

Mr. le Carre’ was actually part of MI5 and MI6 (British Intelligence) and uses his experiencefrom so many years ago to provide the type of post 9/11 anti-terrorism spy thriller that doesn’t focus on explosions and gun play, but rather the subtleties of communication when very smart people go up against other very smart people who may or may not share their goals. Secrets and misdirection abound. Traps are set, and sly maneuverings are pre-planned.

As if all that weren’t enough, how about yet another mesmerizing performance from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman? He is a master at the top of his craft here. Sure, maybe the German accent is a bit distracting at first, but it was necessary because movie audiences needed a constant reminder that he is not playing an American! I cannot explain how this chain-smoking, mumbling schlub can so dominate a scene and disappear into a character, but Hoffman most certainly does both.

In addition to a very cool script, excellent support work comes from Grigor Dobrygin as Issa, the central figure in Hoffman’s character’s work, Willem Dafoe as a somewhat shady banker, as well as Robin Wright, Daniel Bruhl, Nina Hoss, Homayoun Ershadi, and Rainer Bock. The only miscast is Rachel McAdams as rich girl turned terrorist sympathizer.

Parts of the score were excellent – the droning, ominous piano notes set the right mood. The composer was Herbert Gronemeyer, a German rock star (you’d never know from the score). This is a delicious, challenging look at international spies and how one never knows where they fall on the food chain … minnow, barracuda, shark.

**NOTE: Philip Seymour Hoffman was such an impressive talent, and after this, there are only a couple of projects remaining where you can see his final work: God’s Project (from Sundance Film Festival) and the last of “The Hunger Games” series.  At some point, I will do a retrospective of his career, but not until his final works have been released.

watch the trailer: