Austin Gorski’s review published on Letterboxd:
“We live in a twilight world.”
What a great feeling it was to be back at the movies.
Now, before anyone takes this as a reason to make the trip out (or to criticize me for going), this one was strictly for my mental heath. I simply couldn't take another week of not going to the movies. Even if just once. So, despite my better judgement, I ventured out to my local theater, followed all safety precautions, and left as soon as I could afterwards. I probably won't be going back for a while, either. I need to see people take this pandemic more seriously stateside, and I need a vaccine to become readily available. Then, you'll definitely find me back every weekend. But until then, I probably won't be back for a while. And I don't care how long that takes, honestly.
Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about Tenet...
Following the stripped-down nature of his WWII epic, Dunkirk, Nolan dives into this new decade (or twilight world, as he might call it) with a bang. Immediately, we find ourselves in the middle of his signature IMAX spectacle, and it feels right in line with some of his other cold openings. Here, without spoiling too much, we're introduced to our Protagonist (John David Washington) who discovers an unknown threat in his already dangerous line of work.
From there, we bounce from country to country, one expository scene to the next, and by the end, your brain feels like mush in the best way possible. Some might struggle with the fact that this isn't simply "passive entertainment", but the best movies should force you to engage with what you're experiencing. The film is handsomely photographed, clearly and efficiently showcasing the film's "tricks", as well as the beautiful performers caught in the story's crosshairs. Some of the actors get moments to shine, but they ultimately function as connective pieces in a larger puzzle as opposed to their own individual characters.
But some quick (spoiler-free) thoughts? Washington is legit, Kenneth Branagh is certainly going for it and Pattinson is incredibly suave. Debicki is great with what she has to work with, I just wish it was more for how powerful she can be. She plays great off of Branagh in their scenes together. There’s also a fun little cameo that I’m sure only I’d find to be fun at this point. Most probably won’t catch it. It seems like a bit of a head-scratcher from a financial, money-making standpoint (so does the whole film really), but you know Nolan’s getting practically blank-checks at this point. I would love to see the script for this one day, as this is a *very* visual type of story that I can’t imagine was easy to pitch, let alone write.
While I think the experiment worked in a cold, calculated way, I get the sense general audiences will have a hard time keeping up. It's probably Nolan's least accessible film, sometimes to a fault. It has humor, but some of it is very dry (re: Film Twitter will say it’s humorless because of this). Otherwise, this is a surprisingly bleak picture. A certain plot-point would probably be a thing of discussion in a traditional release roll-out. Seems primed for some awful discourse. But for those who have seen it and might have an idea about what I’m talking about, I’ll say this: I liked when it got dark. But I won’t be surprised if others disagree.
One thing I noticed early on was the film's sound mix, and I have to agree with some of the early international reviews that said it's a bit overbearing at times. Moments of dialogue, as well as Ludwig Göransson's score, get lost in the shuffle, sometimes drowned out entirely over the incredibly loud bass the film pounds into you throughout (this might be the loudest movie I've ever seen). But, I'm willing to admit that I haven't been used to a theater's surround sound (or Dolby set-up) in half a year now, so that might have been a factor. Regardless, it *is* a problem here in ways it wasn't in some of his previous films.
As for the story, I'm afraid I can't go too deep into without spoiling key moments, and I wouldn't dare do that, as so many people have yet to see it. But, as vaguely as I can put it, I'll say Nolan's obsession with time once again is a key component. That being said, it's different. The style is more dirty, unfiltered. Money shots are integrated into the edit as opposed to standing outside of them. Calling this Nolan's "Bond" is too surface-level for what this accomplishes, but his love for genre films does clash with the bleak nature of the film. Most of the time, it's a great one-two punch. Other times, it can come off as a puzzling choice.
As an experience, this was unlike one I've had in months, maybe in over a year. Christopher Nolan and his team have delivered a summer blockbuster that so few would even bother attempting - probably for good reason. What it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for with raw craft and showmanship. This will probably be divisive amongst even the most avid fans of Nolan's work, but it's certainly an awe-inspiring collage of images and sounds that no one else could pull off today.