Thanvik Reddy’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is coming from a guy who’s literally spent his entire childhood growing up with “The Dark Knight”. An ardent fan of Nolan’s style, which blends with the story and its characters....
“Tenet” is a self indulgent movie where Nolan takes his trademarks too far to even care about basics like engaging stories and relatable characters in exchange for complicated physics and exposition dumps that only add to the confusion.
I’ll admit I didn’t understand everything, and I’ve only encountered this kind of experience with another Nolan movie, “Memento” on first viewing. While the non linear arrangement of scenes left me puzzled, I wanted to revisit “Memento” in order to understand how that narrative fit in with the motivations of Leonard to seek revenge. That rewatch provided me a truly rewarding experience as I began to unpack the puzzle piece by piece and further understand the motivations of the protagonist.
After “Memento” no other Nolan movie has confused me as much as “Tenet”. I mean, entropy works in reverse, time is going forwards, backwards, sidewards, wherever-the-fuck-wards... who cares? It had the Nolan brand on it, and I trusted him. 2020 couldn’t get worse.
A lot of people have been complaining that Nolan has been shifting from storytelling to grand displays of style, and I hope I’m wrong here, but “Tenet” appears to be the beginning of Nolan’s end.
I understand that some movies like “Memento” and “Mulholland Drive” tend to have confusing narratives that accentuate the storytelling. However, surface level engagement is important on first viewing, or that’ll completely turn off the audience. Random shit just happens in this movie. Why? Because Nolan needs to show how much of a genius he is, and he wants to punish us for stopping him in his pursuit of doing astrophysics research. After random shit just happens, we get a lazy exposition dump that comes close to helping us understand the movie, but doesn’t quite reach there. By the end, I knew this was just another ‘save the world from extinction’ kind of movie except directed by a theoretical physicist.
Ok, maybe I need to watch this once more to go from 70 percent understanding to at least 90 percent. I’m willing to give Nolan the benefit of doubt in that aspect. But where I will not give him the benefit of doubt is in terms of characters. Now, I don’t need Nolan fanboys to yell that Nolan movies are too complicated to integrate their characters. I disagree for two reasons. One, it’s just a rule that any compelling story needs characters in whom we can get invested. Doesn’t matter whether you converted your physics phd dissertation into a screenplay. Two, Nolan can and HAS created great characters. The duo of Batman and Joker have brought and fed moral dilemmas in my head for years now. While “Inception” is highly concerned with it’s puzzle box plot, the basic desire of Cobb to visit his children, and his trauma give him relatability. Leonard from “Memento” represents that side of us which is out of touch with reality, and is fine with pursuing a pointless goal just for the sake of pursuing a goal. Now, what are the character motivations in this movie? Stereotypical villain with a fake russian accent wants to destroy the world, and a spy who has this odd need to explain to the audience how he feels needs to save the world. I mean, can it get more cliched than this man?
Nolan has a signature style of crosscutting between different scenes occurring at the same time in order to increase tension and suspense. I feel “The Dark Knight” perfectly achieves this by balancing the surface level tension, and the tension based on the ethical dilemmas presented. “Inception” also uses this method to give us the feeling of being within the chaotic dream world. The entirety of “Dunkirk” is basically one scene crosscutting between different timelines. All of these movies are masterclasses in their own right at achieving tension. However, “Tenet” doesn’t have any of that tension. Shit just happens you know? They crash a plane cuz they’ve got millions just lying around. In fact, that pretty much sums up the lame existence of this movie. Imagine preparing to have a child, and you make a lot of preparations for it. Then after it’s born you feel like it should have been aborted. “Tenet” is like that child. It should have been aborted, but it wasn’t, and a lot of resources, and most importantly, a master filmmaker’s reputation were gone in vain.