Ben Shane’s review published on Letterboxd:
i have seen this four times in 48 hours. my brain is absolutely mush in the best fucking way possible.
This review is 100% SPOILER-FREE! Although, if you're still concerned about that kind of thing, I always suggest seeing the film as blind as possible and reading this when you're done!
To be 100% upfront about this, I don't think there has been a film I've been more excited to review, hell, even "see" than this new work from the man himself, Christopher Nolan. Tenet has fully consumed my thoughts for the past eight months since I saw the first six minutes of it before Star Wars last year. Every day since I've thought about and theorized it, and throughout this incredibly slow wait (it's three delays sure tested my patience), Nolan very quickly became tied (with Edgar Wright) as my favourite director *ever*. The man has made what I believe is the most revolutionary and innovative blockbuster kino of our time and seeing four of them at the Ontario Place Cinesphere (the first IMAX theatre ever built) back in February, all projected in IMAX 70mm film, with the first six minutes of Tenet playing before each film every week was a truly educational and inspiring experience for me. So yes, I was truly pumped to see this film.
Saying that, I cannot encourage visiting a movie theatre during these potentially unsafe times. I took a risk going to the theatre today, and stress that each and every one of you does the same before you decide venturing out to see this film. If you live in a household where the uncertainty of catching this evil virus is a risk not worth taking, then not at all am I encouraging you to visit the theatre. As well, if you are not willing to wear a mask for the majority of this film's 150-minute runtime (fortunately, I live in an area where I believe it is safe to occasionally shove some popcorn in my face or take a sip of a drink) to visit a multiplex, or are not feeling well enough to visit a theatre right now, do not go. These are scary times that our guards should not be down during. Yet, at the same time, if you can co-operate with what I just described, I do recommend visiting the theatre to see this film. It's truly something DIFFERENT for cinema, and it is important to support an industry that could very well be overtaken by streaming service giants if not enough money is made during these times. Now, on with the review!
Tenet is directed by Christopher Nolan, stars John-David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), Robert Pattinson (Good Time), Elizabeth Debicki (Widows), and Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk), and follows "The Protagonist" (Washington), who is a special operative tasked with preventing World War III, once an evil Russain warlord starts using a dangerous method of time travel that *inverts time*, posing a risk to all life as we know it.
Christopher Nolan, the man known for fucking up our minds with classics such as Inception, The Dark Knight, Interstellar and more, has somehow created a sci-fi concept that he has quoted as "his most ambitious film to date". Well is it? And is it good? Yes, and yes. Tenet is a truly groundbreaking action/ sci-fi/ espionage blockbuster... asterisk. Whereas with Inception, Nolan managed to write a truly MAD concept that happened to play out incredibly well with mainstream audiences, I'm not too sure in the future we'll be able to say the same about Tenet. I think this film is truly incredible, but I'm not sure if moviegoers who aren't as big fans of Nolan as I am will agree with what I'm about to say.
The concept here goes DEEP. Essentially, there is a method of time travel in this film, where, when you walk through the time machine, all life around you (EXCEPT yourself) moves backwards. This includes all clocks, cars, people, and more. And so, if you aren't using the time machine, but someone around you IS, you will perceive their movements as backwards, along with any physical matter they brought through the machine with them. So if I used this machine and didn't bring a gun with me, but picked up a gun in the "inverted" world, and shot it, you will perceive my movements as backwards but the gun firing as forwards. But if I did bring a gun with me through the machine and shot it, you will perceive my movements and the gun's movements both as backwards. I hope that makes sense. This makes for some truly innovative storytelling, action sequences, and more. It is some truly cool shit, brought to you by a man who is famous for consistently blessing movie theatres with other, truly cool shit.
Just as the concept goes deep, so does the script itself. Nolan's films are usually lengthy, and this does not make an exception. This film's 150-minute runtime is insanely dense, filled with a buttload of incredibly impressive action sequences, character arcs, and exposition. Something Nolan's always been great at, but I think has hit peak potential here, is this screenplay's pacing. My god. This hits the ground running, and does not stop sprinting for all of its 150 minutes. I was so truly invested during my first viewing that it was hard to tell where the act-breaks were, because it keeps throwing you the most entertaining kind of engaging filmmaking that will hit the cinema all year. The spy/espionage approach he's taken to writing is such a breath of fresh air. It really feels like a sci-fi James Bond film made by Christopher Nolan. Robert Pattinson said that the action set-pieces in this film are so huge, that each one would make for the climactic set-piece in your average blockbuster. The dude was not lying. Every action sequence is the bigger, and louder than the last.
Speaking of acting, it's all great here. I think John-David Washington is taking after his father (Denzel) here and showing off some true movie star potential within this film. He is charismatic and entertaining as hell to watch. This man is also an ATHLETE, and does the majority of his character's stunts. His character, which by the way, seriously doesn't have a name, (his character is "The Protagonist"). I like to describe him to friends as our generation's "The Man With No Name". His partner in crime, played by the dashing Robert Pattinson is also operating at full throttle here. Pattinson keeps outdoing himself with these committed acting roles, and he is easily the best part of this film. Elizabeth Debicki is also a fantastic plot-(Kat)alyst, in which Nolan has finally stepped away from his clichèd female writing in what feels like a totally fresh character. This film's antagonist played by Kenneth Branagh is pure, subdued evil as well. This film's supporting cast is also great including Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Himesh Patel, Michael Caine, and Martin Donovan.
I'm sure by this point in the review you have grasped at just how much of an auteur-approach Nolan has taken with this film, and I think the most impressive aspect of the position he is in as a filmmaker, is how much money he is able to utilize from his gracious studio, Warner Bros. This is the most expensive original (not-Batman) film Nolan has made, and the production value shows. Nolan quoted that this film has "under 300 VFX shots, which is less than the average rom-com", and honestly, I believe the man. From my perspective, SO MUCH of what he captures during this film is in-camera. Without giving too much away, he crashes real planes, cars, and creates realistic looking gunfire all on set. Nevertheless, under a mind-bending time travel concept in which he's able to make it all look incredibly badass moving backwards!
His now three-time cinematographer Hoye Van Hoytema simply knocks the camerawork out of the goddamn park once again. The scope he captures within the extremely high magnitude of locations it takes place in, as well as the epic fight cinematography are unlike no other. A lot of this is thanks to the best cinematic format to ever grace this earth it is presented in, being IMAX 70mm film. If you've read my site for some time now, you know I am an IMAX fanboy. And well, I find it hard not to be, especially whenever a new Nolan film comes around, given the fact that nobody else in Hollywood is even allowed to achieve the kind of IMAX camerawork he pulls off. Simply put, viewing a projection of IMAX 70mm is the equivalent of watching a digital film in 16K. When you go to a normal movie theatre, that's usually 2K, and some IMAX theatres can play 4K. NOTHING comes close to how sharp Nolan movies look on IMAX film. And to be honest, seeing a film projected on celluloid is such a rare occurrence I can't help but be grateful and gush about it every chance I get. Seeing this projected on film, as the kids these days say, "hits different".
Rounding out my review, I need to shoutout Jennifer Lame, this film's editor, who somehow pulled off what may have been the most difficult job in this film. The editing here is truly bananas, and it would NOT have worked without her help. As well, this film's composer Ludwig Görransson. Ludwig's music here is INSANE. This is my favourite Nolan score by a mile. He honestly never needs to work with Zimmer again (No disrespect, the man is a master). Görransson deserves to win the goddamn Oscar this year.
Films DO NOT get made like Tenet. So I cannot help but praise every one of its strong suits. There is truly nobody working in this industry like Christopher Nolan. Cinema does not get better than this. This is why he deserves my highest praise, and this is why this film deserves my highest rating.