Directed by Todd Field, Tar is the story of a successful conductor (Cate Blanchett) whose life slowly unravels, even as she continues her toxic workplace behavior, after the off-screen suicide of a former employee.

Tar is a remarkably slow film that runs two hours and thirty-eight minutes. Much of the runtime involves long, deliberate shots of characters talking, which allow for more stagey performances, particularly from the always magnetic Blanchett. However, Tar doesn’t show the most important moments of Lydia Tar’s life on screen. The inciting incident, the death of the former colleague, takes place off screen, and while Field may have his reasons for structuring the story this way, that structure didn’t work for me.

Ultimately, Tar is about abuses of power and problematic workplace behavior, but what it is saying about those “ripped from the headlines” themes is less clear. Is it merely pointing out that even seemingly liberal lesbian artists can be the Harvey Weinstein of a philharmonic – that abuses of power can even come from unsuspected places? If that’s all Tar has to offer, then that’s a rather limited observation.

Cate Blanchett uses all of the freedom the film’s cinematography and staging allows for her. Whatever Tar’s failures may be, they cannot be laid at Blanchett’s feet. She’s always captivating, and the subtle nuances of her character’s privilege are brilliantly brought to life.

David Mamet’s play Oleanna (1992, the film version, 1994) tackled inadvertent but nonetheless pernicious sexual harassment, and Tar attempts to follow in a similar vein. But whereas Mamet’s staccato dialogue keeps the drama rolling and the ending of his film shockingly raises the stakes, Tar sputters along. Its cinematography and acting are strengths, but the story structure and pacing left a lot to be desired.