I’m currently writing this review in the past but it’s linked to the future because both are happening at the same time in the present and if that’s confusing welcome to the world of Tenet!
I’m not gonna go into too much detail with the synopsis here mostly because this movie has been so mysterious for so long and what with theaters being closed (thanks corona!), not everyone has been able to see it in a timely manner. So long story short, the plot follows an unnamed CIA Agent (John David Washington) who sets off on a journey with his handler, Neil (Robert Pattinson), to figure out how to stop a world ending catastrophe that is a result of a bad guy who just wants to do bad things. Crazy time related shenanigans ensue.
What struck me right off the bat with Tenet was, as usual, how good it looks cinematically. Coming from Christopher Nolan, a director that has more than one successful blockbuster, original IP and sequel under his belt, it’s of no surprise that more than anything else, this film is a technical masterpiece. Whether it be the admittedly confusing yet beautiful way he shows the way time inversion works, to the truly unforgettable hand to hand combat scenes that need to be seen to be believed, Nolan outdid himself in a lot of ways with this one, but at the same time shot himself in the foot on more than one occasion.
The script, for what it brings to the table as an idea and how it acts as a coherent story, is more of a hit or miss kind of experience. The plot is solid enough to warrant genuine interest but the execution feels way off compared to Nolan’s fairly similar and superior film, Inception. And for a movie that clocks in at two and a half hours, the entire story, character development and scene-to-scene flow felt rushed and unlike Nolan who usually takes his time to nurture both the story and characters swept up in it. To make matters worse, I honestly could not understand a lot of dialogue being thrown about in this film, mostly because Nolan is notorious for his muddy dialogue mixing, and while it usually isn’t that big a deal if you just pay attention enough, this film relies so heavily on exposition and Nolan’s patented way of writing dialogue that a lot gets lost in the shuffle.
This means that the more the characters talk, the less I’m focusing on what they’re saying because I’m quite literally trying to figure out what they’re saying. It’s such a sticking point with this film that I wish that I could see it a second time just to make sure all my assumptions about what I saw are real and valid. I feel like I might be giving this one a bit of a harsh review based on this aspect alone, yet it’s so entwined with the entire movie watching experience that I’d be remiss not to knock the final product because of it. In either instance, this film almost feels like it needed a full eight-episode season to get across what it was trying to cram into a fraction of that time, so maybe Nolan’s new frontier lies in a limited series where he can stretch his wild ideas into a more manageable framework.
Regardless of my thoughts on this film, I love me some Christopher Nolan, but with his continued stubbornness in the muddy dialogue department and a script that inherently needs more exposition than Inception ever did, Tenet is a film that I want to like more than I did. A second viewing (with subtitles) is absolutely imperative before I can truly appreciate what the filmmakers were going for, and although I was happy with finally being able to see it on the big screen before it becomes available at home, I think this one got away from the film that it truly wanted to be.