Review: Tenet

Tenet (2020)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Christopher Nolan

Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh

Plot: A former CIA agent gets involved in a society of time travelers.

Review: The best way I can sum up how I feel about Tenet is with a quote from Robert Pattinson’s character, Neil: “Does your head hurt yet?” Then, maybe, followed up by one from John David Washington with “Well, try and keep up.” Because, damn, is this movie hard to keep straight.

I am not dumb. I just feel like throwing that out there. I can follow along with a lot of complicated stuff. But, I left the theater after my viewing of Tenet feeling like I truly grasped about 30% of what I’d seen. I had to come home to a handful of articles and YouTube videos before I felt confident to even write anything up on this. Even now, I’m not sure I could pass a test on this movie. Everything is super complicated. Add to that Nolan’s desire to keep people in the dark, even while they’re watching the movie, and you’re going to lose some people. Plus, there’s a lot of exposition. Just a ton of talking. And, for some reason, Nolan likes to absolutely crank everything up except for the dialogue. It’s this weird quirk that he’s got. The movie is super loud but you can barely hear the characters talk. AND, they only really say things once. So, easy to miss, quiet, essential, complicated exposition scenes? Yeah. I’m giving myself a pass on this one. It’s not my fault.

Regardless, I’ve got a pretty decent grasp on the plot now. I’m not completely lost anymore. So, what did I think of it? It’s good. Not great. You can tell that Nolan is a smart person who put a lot of thought into this script. I can see where he’s coming from now. I still think it’s a bit overly complex, but I’d like to watch it again before passing full judgment. I think this is a movie that will improve upon repeat viewings.

However, it definitely features that Christopher Nolan coldness that everyone talks about. He’s constantly accused of writing kind of flat, inhuman characters without much personality of emotion. I’ve always kind of defended him against those accusations, but I can definitely see it in Tenet. I don’t really care about any of these characters. None of the performances are mindblowing. It’s all in the storytelling and the visuals. I do think even Nolan himself knows that this time around though, because he doesn’t even bother giving his main character a name. But, as someone who’s enjoyment of a movie is almost directly tied to my love of the characters, this didn’t help Tenet’s inaccessibility for me.

The one thing that absolutely cannot be denied is that Tenet is a technically perfect movie. The cinematography is great. The score is top notch. The action scenes are very well done. It’s got some gigantic, awe-inspiring set pieces. There are amazing piratical effects with things moving both forward and backwards in time. You know, all the stuff we’ve come to expect from Christopher Nolan at this point. He’s one of the most renowned filmmakers of his generation for a reason. Even his lesser movies, like this one, are still worth seeing on the biggest screen possible.

Overall, I liked Tenet. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to tell you that leaving the theater though. However, after a bit of homework, I can definitely tell you that it’s at least a good movie. And, like I said, technically it’s gorgeous. This’ll be nominated for quite a few technical Oscars. It’s not my favorite Nolan movie. It’s actually probably closer to the bottom. But, it’s still worth watching and celebrating. I’m sure I’ll grow to like it more as time goes on. But, for now, it’s good. Go see it… if it’s safe to do so. Don’t die for this movie…

TL;DR: Tenet may be Christopher Nolan’s most inaccessible movie yet, but is worth the effort in the end.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

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