Arguably, one of the best directors in the business right now is Christopher Nolan. Every film he has directed has been unbelievably great (subjectively of course), and each carry his very distinct style of filmmaking. So, with his amazing track record of projects, Tenet had become one of the most anticipated films of the year for film fans. I have to say, Tenet does not disappoint as it is a fast paced thrilling adventure, with great performances, fantastic action, amazing technical prowess, and a concept that is so mind-melting that his previous high-concept films, Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014), seem like simple ideas in comparison.
Tenet follows The Protagonist, played by John David Washington who after passing a test of allegiance after a failed operation, is thrown into a world of espionage that is in a secret cold war with people of the future. The Protagonist must track down the origin of items that are in the state of moving backwards in time (inverted entropy) before the threat of the future cause WWIII for the present.
First and foremost, the beauty of this film is in the technical aspects. Nolan is a stickler for practical effects and they are on full display in this film. When objects look like they are moving backwards or when characters look like they are moving in reverse, for the most part that is how it was filmed (the stunts performed in reverse are incredibly choreographed). By far the coolest sequences in the film are when the scenes are composited where the footage in reverse is happening at the same time as the footage moving forward. Written down, I understand that makes absolutely no sense, but if you watch the film you will definitely see what I am talking about (particularly during the final set-piece). Another fantastic element is the score by Ludwig Göransson which was so wonderfully experimental and intrinsic to the moving through the entropy of time in the film. There were many times where the score enveloped me and really helped my comprehension and appreciation of all the other aspects in the film.
That said, as with most Nolan films, the sound mixing was not the best. There were many moments where it was hard to hear dialogue because sound effects and the music were not well balanced to the dialogue. This is an issue in most of his films, but it is particularly glaring in this one because of just how quick the pacing in the first act is and how majorly important the dialogue is to keep track of what is going on. Understanding what is happening is a very big complaint that you will come across when reading reviews for this film. I didn’t have as much of a problem as many others, but I can say that the sound mixing was a big cause of any confusion I did have.
The performances in this film are all great. Kenneth Branagh plays a fantastic villain in Andrei Sator and brings a level gravitas and savagery to every scene he is in. Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington are also great in every scene they are in, and Washington, in particular, does an amazing job leading the film. The stand out performance for me is definitely Robert Pattinson. Ever since his role in the Twilight films ended, he has slowly developed a fantastic list of credits, and Tenet continues the roll he has been on.
The big complaint people are having with the film is that it is confusing. While agree that parts are confusing, I would contend that my reason it was confusing is very different from why many think it is. For me, the confusing aspect isn’t the science behind its premise, it’s the question of how does the main character know where and what to do. The first act of the film is so fast paced that if you accidently mishear a single line of dialogue, you will have no idea how or why Washington’s character ended up where he is in the next scene. As the film progresses, eventually you will be able to fill in gaps that you missed, but it doesn’t take away the jarring nature of the opening act. Once you get through the exposition this problem becomes a lot less prevalent. That said, the premise of moving backwards through time in real time is a lot to wrap your head around, but in my opinion, no more so than Inception‘s dream within a dream premise.
Despite the jarring, and borderline sloppy, nature of the first act and the hurdle of understanding exactly what you are witnessing, Tenet is a fantastic time at the movies. It is a definite must-see in the theaters if you feel comfortable heading out. The second and third acts narratively are fantastically laid out, the action is incredible, and the technical aspects are breathtaking. Tenet is just another amazing film in Nolan’s repertoire.
Tenet is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language.