Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer(s): Christopher Nolan
Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
Synopsis: Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.
The amount of hype surrounding this movie was astronomical. This film was being garnered as “the savior of cinema”, and truthfully I think Nolan might have liked that. Anyway, the expectations for this movie were extremely high after a marketing campaign that almost guaranteed this would be one of the biggest blockbusters we have ever seen.
On some of those marks, Nolan hit tremendously. The scale, sound, and feel this movie gave off was massive. The set pieces, and basically all of the practical effects, worked at such a high level. Each of the action sequences in this movie you could really feel through the booming speaker, impactful score, and wonderful camera work. As a straightforward action movie, this works really well.
And it wouldn’t work as well without the performances to boot. John David Washington and Robert Pattinson each brought a certain level of charm and charisma to every scene they were in. We already knew them to be stars, but if you didn’t believe it because of their past work, believe it now. Kenneth Branagh was also menacingly terrifying in the villainous role, as he brought this sort of edge we haven’t seen from him in a long time.
However, the issues in this movie managed to have almost as much as in impact as the positives. One problem I had, in particular, was the writing of Elizabeth Debicki’s character. Her performance was incredible, and I would argue up with the best of this movie, but she was stuck in the “mother” trope and was just a sexual object for Kenneth Branagh’s villain. She was a dominating presence, but she was written in a sort of “damsel in distress” type of way where the movie revolved around having to save her. Maybe this wasn’t as big of an issue as I am making it out to be, but I just felt like her character was wasted and put in this particular role throughout the movie.
But where the biggest issue came, I can explain in one word… Tenet. The movie isn’t confusing at all, and the reversal stuff is cool, at times, but it just doesn’t manage to work all the time throughout the entirety of the movie. This film itself has enough callbacks and “did you see that” moments that could be stretched along with an entire franchise of movies. The reason this movie isn’t confusing by any means is because of the fact you are constantly getting bottle-fed the answers for everything along the way. There is no ambiguity or subtlety with this film, as any question you have Nolan answers for you at some point in the movie. He weaves in these situations and moments that you believe to be symbolic, and then are explained away as an occurrence we just hadn’t gotten to yet.
I don’t think Nolan ever tried to feel smarter than his audience, but I do think he tried to seem cooler than them. The idea of Tenet is an interesting and cool one, but where I think this movie would have done much better is using the flow of time in a more subtle way. He did this well in his masterpiece Dunkirk and in Inception as well, so I know he can do it, but the over-explanation of every detail got to be a bit much for me at times. As I said, I don’t think he ever tried to feel like his audience wasn’t smart enough to see where he was going and what he was doing, I just think he thought some of these “callbacks” would be the coolest thing he has ever done.
Final: A step-back from Nolan’s recent work, Tenet is a large scale action spectacle with a powerful score, wonderful set pieces, and great action, it just has one word standing in its way… Tenet. John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, and Kenneth Branagh all give great performances, as does Elizabeth Debicki, even though her character is massively underused.
Current Tomato Score: 74%
Current Metacritic: 69
Current IMDb: 7.9/10
Awards Prospects: Cinematography, Original Score, VFX, Sound, Production Design
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.