My Grade: 8/10 or B+
– No characterization. I constantly mention flat characterization in movies that bumble the execution of character exposition, but “Tenet” might be lower than those, in that it completely doesn’t have any. Possibly it’s intentional, but I don’t think it does the movie any favors when spending no time away from the plot to learn about them, and allow them to grow as people instead of pieces inside of this globally expansive game of chess being played between its many minds. Focusing on our protagonist, played by John David Washington, brings enough problems of its own. For one, his name in the movie is ACTUALLY The Protagonist. That’s not a joke. They couldn’t even spend time on a name for him, which may be to serve his ambiguity as a spy, but I digress. Aside from that, the only thing I learn about him throughout is that he’s willing to die before giving up information. It makes it difficult to invest in the characters when I learn so very little about them, and even though I was fully interested in the plot and conflicts of the movie, they never feel like actual people, and instead spy genre cliches that offer the actors so very little to play towards.
– Screenplay faults. It’s not an embellishment when I say that this is one of my least favorite Nolan scripts to date, not entirely because of the complexity of the narrative, but rather because some ideas contained aren’t fully realized to the best of their potential. Certain elements within the rules are mentioned, then never elaborated on, some exposition feels heavily devoted to a few scenes in particular, instead of spread out smoothly like “Inception” did so perfectly, and some things I still struggle to understand one hour after seeing the movie. It’s a Christopher Nolan film, so I expect some aspects will go over my head, but I feel like there was a way to explain matters to an audience that was easy to pick up without holding their hands throughout the experience, and it just brings forth more questions logically the longer my friends and I think about the obvious plot holes than I feel comfortably concluding with.
– Small things, major consequences. Another theme within the film that I took great familiarity from in regards to other Nolan projects is this idea that big consequences stem from these intimate ocurrances. I can’t get too deep into details here because spoilers weigh heavily in the balance, but as the movie progresses further, it’s almost poetic how so much of what takes shape relies on one key event between two characters where one of their lives will change depending on what route that person takes. It’s therapeutic to us the audience because we’ve all wanted that opportunity to go back and change things during an important moment in our lives, but it’s beneficial to the film because it grants gravitas to these otherwise throwaway moments that we often overlook, and reminds us that everyday is a choice in a bigger picture with bigger consequences.
– Second time around. One unique aspect that I found to the movie’s production was the ability to live through an event that we as an audience have already experienced, but to see it from someone else’s perspective. This not only changed things up with how things happened, completely contorting the interaction from what we were previously expecting, but also requires us to study things more carefully once you know how the gimmick takes shape. Without spoiling anything, it’s the things around the characters, and not necessarily the characters that is important here, shaping the way the scene takes form, but also requiring your sharpest attention that will reward your patience if you do so. As the film draws to a close, a few of these previous key moments resurface, and draw out more impactfully than we were previously expecting, granting meaning to every moment of our lives that we occasionally take for granted, but seen as monumental from an entirely different angle inside someone else’s memories.
– Breathtaking photography. Hoyte Van Hoytema and Nolan are building a beautiful friendship with one another, ideally after films like “Interstellar” and “Dunkirk” brought with them some of my favorite compositions and cinematography that I have seen of their respective years. The work by Hoytema here is certainly no different, capturing the exotic landscapes and unnerving, unorthodox character reflective moments with the kind of creativity that cements meaning behind every single shot involved in the film. With an IMAX camera, the waters look purer, the architecture of the land stretches further, and the movie’s sleek spy thriller color scheme resonates in a way that creatively pays homage to the classics of the genre, where style was second to nothing. Finally, The fight sequences tighten up on such captures, requiring claustrophobia to not only bottle the intensity between said physical interaction, but also to accommodate the compressed hallways that they take shape in. It proves that Hoyte is easily adaptable from any angle or width from the characters he documents, and brings forth what is inevitably another Oscar nomination in what is easily a depleted year of Hollywood cinema.
– Realistic physics. Similar to the decision to hire on physicist Kip Thorne to work on Nolan’s 2014 film “Interstellar”, Thorne returns here to make sure the concepts associated within Nolan’s gimmick of time travel are up to par, and they bring forth no shortage of cerebral supremacy towards the integrity of the film. Colors are one of the many ways of distinguishing between two worlds set-up midway through the film, but beyond that, it’s the theories and concepts that take us through butterfly effects with character deaths, as well as some truly unique ways of incorporating the SATOR theory to the complexity of the script that truly elevate the rules of the game to a whole other level. It’s inevitable that people will be lost somewhere if they miss even one of these twists or turns that the script deposits with very little warning along the way, however the material is all the more satisfying once you finally pick up on what the movie is teaching, and makes the science associated with “Interstellar” feel like a walk in the park when compared to the depth of “Tenet”.
– Jaw-dropping action. The set pieces in this film are grand in scale without relying on an over-saturation of computer generation to distort their devastation. Instead, Nolan uses practical effects work for everything, including a scene where he destroys a master aircraft that he only bought and included into the film so it could be annihilated for the craft’s final last wishes. Aside from this, the fight sequences are quick, brunt, and full of believable choreography that stems from some mind-blowing measures of innovative filmmaking. Nolan not only shot the fights in real time, but also required actors to learn choreography backwards to play to the scenes that reverse time and bend gravity in ways that we didn’t think were possibly cinematically. It leads to a series of physical interactions that dazzle with brutality, but amaze with bodily contortion that plays heavily into the gimmick, and collides with the kind of speed in execution that constantly maintains the authenticity of two people with a deadly vendetta towards one another.
– Group effort. There are no shortage of compelling performances and unique characters supplanted by an ensemble cast that is every bit expansive and diverse as they are physically devoted to ensuring perfection. Washington gives us another charismatic lead, this time instilling an intelligent side that his turn in 2019’s “Blackkklansman” only scratched the surface of. As our story’s lead protagonist, John David captivates with unshakeable charisma and adapting presence that makes him a quick learner in the eyes of the audience, who basically learn through him. Robert Pattinson’s chameleon-esque filmography is also given another satisfying turn, this time delivering much of the movie’s surprising comic muscle, which never demeans or weakens the capabilities of his character. Elizabeth Debicki also gives an emotionally stirring performance that rivals her work in 2018’s “Widows”, but if anything takes the cake here for the way her deepest regrets and emotional scars of a failed marriage carve out a leading lady we easily empathize with, for the undying strength she constantly maintains through some darkly abusive material. Kenneth Brannagh’s consistency also resonated throughout the film, mostly in a Russian accent that I didn’t see coming, nor ever felt distracted by for its cartoonish circumstance. Instead, Brannagh subtly transforms into this role, and doesn’t let his ethnicity define the menacing nature of this truly evil man hellbent on bringing those around him down at whatever cost.
– Thunderous sound. Standing out as the biggest and loudest character in the movie, the boisterous sounds coming from the mixing and editing departments rattle and emphasize the anxiety in each scene candidly, and when held with Ludwig Goransson’s complexly satisfying musical score, preserve a strong intensity to the variety of action set pieces that get us primed before the scene even executes its capabilities. On a fighting examination, the blows and grunts by each character pack an insurmountable heft that easily registers with us during each devastating delivery, and echoes with the kind of vibrancy that feels otherworldly in defying the laws of gravity. My lone critique with the mixing comes in the form of pivotal exposition, which is frequently missed because its sound levels are a bit too loud during key exchanges between characters, but if anything else it requires future rewatches so you can delve even further into the psychology of the movie’s material, and that can never be a bad thing.
– Master craftsman. This is Nolan at his most ambitious, seen through the lens of inverted time travel and intellectual world war, which only touches on the surface of what much of his screenplay actually resides on. Like previous Nolan films, it takes an idea that is universally understood, and twisted and contorted in a way that now forces you to view it in entirely contrasted circumstances, offering intelligence in cinema that is unmatched when compared to other familiar big name blockbuster directors. In terms of being a visual storyteller, it’s the familiarity that resonates from within his decision to shoot everything using state of the art IMAX cameras that boost no shortage of intoxicating imagery, as well as the grand decision to include not even a single computer generated effect to take away from the authenticity and stakes of the action he continuously penetrates his audience with. It’s riveting, daring, and especially awe-inspiring, and proves that he is on another level creatively when it comes planning and execution that demands to be seen on the silver screen.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong adult language
The Plot – In a twilight world of international espionage, an unnamed CIA operative, known as The Protagonist (Washington), is recruited by a mysterious organization called Tenet to participate in a global assignment that unfolds beyond real time. The mission: prevent Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), a renegade Russian oligarch with precognition abilities, from starting World War III. The Protagonist will soon master the art of “time inversion” as a way of countering the threat that is to come.
Starring – John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
Directed By Christopher Nolan