Cole Pants Smith’s review published on Letterboxd:
How do you know I haven’t already reviewed this movie?
In many ways, The Dark Knight and Inception made me into the type of movie goer that I am. They hit me right at that formative period, when those sorts of tastes laid the groundwork for the types of movies that I love. And it's pretty easy to see those tendrils if you look at my "movies I watched for the first time this year" lists where I highlight movies that made a particular impact on me but weren't released that year. It's not airtight, but you can definitely see the lingering influence of a kid who first learned to love movies in Nolan's hegemony of the late-aughts to early-10s. That sort of heady, conceptual thing. I'm a Nolan fanboy. At some point since I was fourteen, though, I think I started to see cracks in his work. Not that I really liked them any less--and his best still hold up, imo--but I kind of understood why the naysayers weren't really digging his vibe. Enter Tenet.
Not only has the Nolan shtick been parodied and copied to death, but the internet age has allowed for those people not as into his movies to (rightfully) have a platform to dissect and discuss his shortcomings. It has allowed me to challenge my opinions. It's a good thing.
But Tenet is kind of breaking me right now. I just got home from seeing it at the Paramount Drive-In and my brain is kind of mushy not only because of the plot, but sort of about the presentation of it all. It's definitely the most Nolan of his movies. And depending on who you ask I think that could either be a complement or a criticism. I don't know which I mean, either. From a conceptual standpoint, I have to relentlessly admire the man's steadfast desire to explore high-concepts on a scale that no other filmmaker has really been able to since Kubrick, probably. That hardcore devotion has allowed the blockbuster experience to literally evolve and the dude has brought forth spectacles that push the envelope not just into how we perceive narratives on film, but also as to how we film them. And Tenet feels kind of like the apex of that exploration of who he is as a filmmaker. And that part I mean as an insult. Tenet is sort of like if David Lynch came out of his feature hiatus and dropped a feature length version of like Rabbits or something. I'd probably still eat it up, but it'd be really disappointing. From this movie, it almost feels like Nolan is just Cobb at the end of Inception: so far into his own mechanisms that he's kind of leaving a lot of his strengths at the wayside so he can sort of obsess over what he usually does. It makes all the criticisms for Tenet extremely valid.
So why did I like this movie, then?
I don't really fucking know. But I know I did. I think Nolan has kind of slowly been working towards solely delivering experiences his entire career and Tenet feels as close to an experiential, borderline experimental film that you could get on an AAA budget. And I kind of respect that because at the very least we get some absolutely mind-melting visuals slapped on top of a banger of a score. I mean, the dude skewed the mix of the dialogue so you could barely hear it aside from one character saying "don't try to understand it." The contradiction of that line is that I both rolled my eyes and then also told myself to buckle the fuck up.
Because this movie is goddamn frustrating. It has little to no characterization for 99% of the characters, resorts to his woman as tortured mother problem, and then as a result ALSO tells us we're probably not smart enough to understand it? Like ??? At one point while watching this, I had my hands in my hair, massaging my head from the headache, having such a crisis that Megan pats me on the shoulders and tells me it's okay. Like. Dude. Maybe it's time to tone that shit down.
But, fuck. I liked this. I liked this a lot. I liked having my brain handed to me on a silver platter because I'm an absolute dumbass when it comes to understanding this shit. I liked seeing Washington do things that looked absolutely rad while saying cool shit like "I'm not the guy you negotiate with". I like that. And I think I like it because, cancerous growths and all, it made me feel like I was fourteen again sitting in the theater watching Inception for the first time. And I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.
So, is Tenet a good movie? Fuck if I know. Probably not. I usually just write shitpost reviews on this site so I'm really no authority. But if we are to look at art as having an emotional response from an experience, then I'll probably go join Nolan in his little Cobb-esque reality because I'll continue to eat his work up. Maybe we can work on his women characters while I'm there.