If there’s one filmmaker working today that never disappoints, it’s Christopher Nolan. Every single release with his name on it is always a spectacle to behold (The Dark Knight, Inception, Dunkirk, etc.), and if any film has the power to bring filmgoers back to movie theaters after months of streaming Netflix, it is Nolan’s new film Tenet. The trailers of this film promised a mind-bending twist on spy films such as James Bond or Jason Bourne, and now that the film has finally been released, we realize that Tenet is so much more than just a spy movie. I haven’t seen any movie achieve what this film does on a technical level. There are entire sequences where I couldn’t pick my jaw up off the floor because of both the spectacle and the plot complexities of the production. This is almost to be expected of an expensive Nolan film, but he still manages to surprise audiences with the ingenuity of the concept and the technical mastery on display. Yes, this film is confusing as hell like many of the reviews say, but Tenet is more than worth the amount of thought and concentration demanded of audiences.
Describing the plot of Tenet would not only be pointless, but it would probably take hours to detail the tangled web Nolan sets up. I will say nothing more than the trailers say, which is next to nothing. We are introduced to a Protagonist (John David Washington) that is sent on an extremely important and secretive mission armed with one word: Tenet. We do not know the details of this mission or what it entails, but we do know that time will not be a constant, to say the very least. Nolan always messes with time and comments on the passage of time within his narratives, and here he does so in a completely different way than ever devised in film. As soon as the inner workings of the Protagonist’s mission were revealed, I knew I was in for a wild ride. While some of the movie is a little clunky and confusing, especially when focused on the small details of the mission, the payoff is incredible and the suspense is palpable.
Before diving into this experience, viewers should be aware of the only major flaw of Tenet, which is the odd sound design. This sounds like a nerdy film editing comment, but even the most average of moviegoers will likely have this issue, for it is near impossible to hear the dialogue during many scenes. I honestly do not blame the screenplay or the structure for this film being confusing; I blame the fact that I couldn’t hear scenes of important exposition at all, so it was difficult to grasp the specific details of the mission. If Tenet had closed captioning, it would be damn near perfect. But even with this flaw, the film still delivers an unforgettable experience with some fantastic storytelling and acting. The two hours and 30 minutes fly by, and even during scenes in which I was confused out of my mind, I was still invested in the plot and the characters. The general feeling this film gives off is more than enough to keep audiences’ eyes glued to the screen, and every twist in the last act still hits just as hard regardless.
However, even if one is paying attention to every scene and understands every line of dialogue, Tenet will probably only be understood after a second viewing. The second half has so many unexpected twists that I often wanted to pause and rewind the movie; obviously I couldn’t do that in an IMAX movie theater, which is why this film needs to be viewed multiple times. It’s actually a genius way to make money: convince people to come see the newest Nolan film with the big screen experience and then make them want to pay more money to see it a second time with a new perspective.
As always, Nolan directs and writes the hell out of this film and pulls off some of the best action scenes of the year. I could name multiple high stakes action scenes in Tenet that rival the best of the past couple of years: a fight scene in a hallway that is experienced twice, a scene involving a building exploding and reshaping itself, a car chase scene that doesn’t move in one direction, etc. I have no idea how they filmed certain action sequences without screwing up or injuring themselves, which is rare to see in today’s cinema landscape. Not one scene of green screen special effects is used, so every scene feels visceral and grounded despite being absolutely absurd. Lead actors Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki all step up to the task and deliver fantastic performances in service of this mind-bending narrative, proving all three have bright futures ahead of them. Washington is a charismatic leading man; Pattinson delivers a reliable and standout performance that we have come to expect from him in his post-Twilight days; and Debicki is the emotional core of the story.
In short, despite its flaws, I love Tenet. It isn’t for everybody because it is very hard to follow and expects a lot from its audience, but I suspect film fans and Nolan fans will find it to be well worth it. People like me, who have loved just about every one of his movies up to this point, will not find themselves walking out of the theater disappointed. I already can’t wait to go see it again and find more that I didn’t catch the first time, which is the best feeling to have after watching a film of this magnitude. Tenet is not Nolan’s best, but it still manages to be one of the most innovative and engaging theater experiences in recent memory, with or without COVID-19. Those who are willing to go to a theater in these unprecedented times should definitely seek this out on the biggest screen possible. I think Tenet will be talked about years from now as being more unique and innovative than the current reviews state, so I highly suggest going to check it out before the discussion starts.
I give Tenet an A.