“Tenet” Review

Christopher Nolans film Tenet

Christopher Nolan’s film “Tenet”

By Andrew Washington, Staff Writer

Christopher Nolan is perhaps the most unique and ambitious filmmaker working today. He has long been revered for his mind-bending, beautiful imagery and concepts that engross audiences around the world, proving him to be a box-office draw. However, that does not mean that his films are necessarily easy to understand. He likes to play with time, and he has done this since the beginning of his career with “Memento.” In every one of Nolan’s films, there is some exploration of the modification of time, whether that be in “Interstellar,” a film that delves into time dilation and relativity, or “Inception,” a film that explores reality and how time affects things that aren’t real. 

This film, “Tenet,”  is not easily understood, at least not on first viewing. I have always liked Nolan’s films, because they are challenging and thought-provoking, but this one borders on over-complication and confusion. This is Nolan’s most complex film yet. You might find yourself too focused on the mechanics of the concept rather than the film itself. 

So, my advice to you is, as is said in the film by relatively minor character Barbara, “Try not to think about it too much. Feel it.” I think that is what you will have to take with you into this film. Try not to think about it too much. I found myself doing just that, and it was taking me out of what was a visual marvel with great action sequences and stellar practical effects. You will have to pay attention, as you do with most films in general, to understand the story but try not to, while viewing, figure out the “how.”

In summation, watch first and think later.

Outside of the complex concept, overall, Tenet is a film that I very much enjoyed as a filmgoer and Christopher Nolan fan. If you are unfamiliar with Nolan’s filmography, you will not understand this film. I would recommend that you start with “Memento” and work your way up to this one. For even the most seasoned Nolan fans, this will provide a bit of a challenge, but as I previously stated, save the challenge for later. If you try to figure it out as you are watching, you will miss parts of the movie. But this film fits very much within his style of storytelling and visual style. If you are not a fan of Nolan’s other films, I don’t think you will enjoy this film very much. This film, I think more so than his others, is “for the fans.”

“Tenet” is an extremely well-made movie. The visual effects (or lack thereof) are some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen, mostly due to the fact that almost 100% of the effects were done in-camera rather than with digital effects. Obviously, there was some “computer help,” but the overwhelming majority of the film, including the inverted fight scenes, were done in- camera). The cinematography is on point, as is the case with most of Nolan’s films. Frequent Nolan collaborator, Hoyte van Hoytema should receive some recognition for his work here. 

Nolan likes to create a spectacle, and I think there is no shortage of that in this film. It is big, grandiose, and loud, a factor that both adds and subtracts from the experience. Nolan’s films tend to have a big and luxurious score (done excellently this time by Academy-Award winning Black Panther composer Ludwig Göransson), but because of that, often times, the music overpowers the dialogue, making it difficult to hear what the characters have to say (and a lot of times, the dialogue is important). There is a scene that takes place on a sailboat where the characters might as well have not said anything, it was so loud. Other than that, the sound design (editing, mixing, and the like) is great.

The story, as I stated, is complex, but it does help that the complex story is paired with great performances by actors and their characters. John David Washington does a great job as The Protagonist (that is legitimately his character’s name). He was the lead in “BlacKkKlansman,” but I’m glad to see him take on this kind of lead role in an action film. Being Denzel’s son has its perks, I guess, right? Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh both do a great job, one as the emotional center of the film and the other as the complete opposite. However, I think my favorite performance belongs to Robert Pattinson, and he has always been an underappreciated actor. He has been fantastic in every role I have seen him in, like his performance in 2019’s “The Lighthouse” (and no, that does not include Twilight), and he was fantastic here in his supporting role. I will say that most of the characters, save for Elizabeth Debicki’s Kat, are mysterious to the audience. We do not really get to know much about their background. But, I think that was a good choice. It allows for every character’s actions to speak for that character. 

Overall, I enjoyed Tenet. It fits very much within Christopher Nolan’s style of filmmaking and storytelling, which I believe works for and against this film. It is beautiful, not uncommon in Nolan’s films, utilizing all of the tools of filmmaking in all the right ways to the fullest extent. I enjoyed the challenge, also not uncommon in Nolan’s films, though it does at times become almost too challenging. I think that this film will benefit best from multiple viewings to fully unlock the story, but, again, “Try not to think about it too much. Feel it,” at least on the first go-round.

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