Running Time: 150 mins.
Where Can You See It?: Only in Theaters
Premise: I think I understood about 50% of it, but here goes: in a war between the future and the present, a protagonist named “The Protagonist” (John David Washington) must master inverted time travel to stop an evil arms dealer from capturing a macguffin and destroying the world as we know it. Or something like that.
Behind-the-Scenes: Tenet has been at the center of every discussion about movie theaters reopening during the pandemic. Originally set for release on July 17, in the heart of the now extinct summer 2020 movie season, the film was pushed back several times given the country’s inability to contain the spread of the virus. Director Christopher Nolan, long a proponent of the theatrical experience, refused to release Tenet on VOD and pushed for its release to help save movie theaters.
The Good: Nolan certainly knows how to stage big screen action, and many of the practically achieved set pieces are stunners. He’s working with a hell of a cast too – full of some of the most promising younger talent in Hollywood (Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki). Pattinson fares best here, in a relaxed, confident performance. It helps that his character has the most fun and gets to show the most personality of the bunch. If spectacle is your thing, Tenet has it in spades. I have to imagine it rewards multiple viewings too.
The Bad: Nolan movies have always hinged on dense, cerebral concepts, but he’s always made sure his audience can follow them. Not so here. The inverted time travel looks cool as visualized but is nearly impossible for audiences to wrap their brains around. I think I understood about 50% of what was happening at any given time. A lot of that is due to the convoluted script, but the sound mix does the movie no favors. Ludwig Goransson’s pretty good score booms loud, the sound effects are crushing, and every line of dialogue is muddled and difficult to discern through all the masks the characters wear. So much sound and fury, but emotionally signifying nothing – I almost felt like I was watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen near the end.
Should You See It?: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but no. For better or worse (mostly worse), this is the most Nolan-y of Nolan’s movies. And, for all the fuss about Tenet being the chosen one to save cinema, it’s probably his worst film. Granted, a bad Nolan film is better than a lot of other movies, but no need to risk your life to see this in a theater.
Star Rating: *** out of 5 stars
Better Than: The New Mutants, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Worse Than: The Dark Knight, Memento, Inception, Interstellar, Insomnia, Dunkirk, The Prestige
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