Tenet ★★★★½

7 months ago, 195 days to be exact, I went to my local cinema to see Birds of Prey, total unbenounced that this would be the last time I was in a theater before lockdown. At this point, I wasn’t super aware of the growing cases of coronavirus, or the extent at which it would extend across the world. Of course, the pandemic has sucked for multiple reasons, safety being the most important one, the lengthy periods being trapped indoors, the fears of how we’re going to operate in this new weird time. Businesses all over the world have been struggling to adapt and operate, High streets have become ghost towns as shops and restaurants, both big and small, completely shut down under the weight of the pandemic.

Obviously, being a film fan, the survival of cinemas was a worry at this time. It’s a tough situation for theaters, because in this era of streaming and VOD, their space was already being challenged. Why would people want to go through the effort to go to a cinema and pay money to watch one movie when Netflix has hundreds of them for £7 a month? I don’t mean that to say that I agree that theaters suck, because they absolutely don’t. There's so much value to seeing a film on the big screen, because it gives you the optimal environment and set-up to view them in, as well as the communal aspect of seeing movies with people. But obviously that’s not really a priority right now.

I know that many people on here can't see Tenet right now, whether it be because you're American, or you're just not planning on seeing it in cinemas out of interest of safety, which is totally valid. I wouldn't have taken that risk to see Tenet if I wasn't confident that my theatre had good precautions in place. And luckily they did, it felt very safe despite the inherent risk that’s still there.

So I'm not gonna say much about the specifics of Tenet, not just out of keeping the surprise for the people waiting to see it, but also just because I'm still trying to take it all in. Tenet is a movie that throws everything it can at you, it’s Nolan at his most extravagant and heady. There's a lot of mechanics to get your head around in terms of time and manipulation and what's happening when and how, and there's lots of dialogue explaining how the story will progress, or setting up story beats and objectives. It's a lot to take in, especially when the sound mix absolutely DROWNS all the important exposition (which I was fine with in Dunkirk, since that's more experiential, but in a movie like this that's more plot driven, it's an issue).

But I think a lot of it works in the end. You don't have to understand every little aspect of the mechanics of how the time inversion works, you just have to go along with it and hope that by the end it explains itself in your head. There's still an underlying emotional core that's in there, which Nolan loves doing to ground his huge stories into something tangible. There’s multiple themes and ideas at play when looking at several different characters and their stories, but I don’t wanna get into a lot of that for fear of spoiling it.

But in terms of a technical achievement and a spectacle, Nolan delivers. The way this inversion idea is shown visually and how he builds upon that idea is just phenomenal. The way the action uses the manipulation of time and just generally how he plays with things is nuts, and it’s even more nuts when you realise it’s totally practical. It’s such a testament to Nolans vision and Hoytema’s control of the camera.
I think everybody does a great job with their performances, the performances do fit the very spy/espionage tone the film is drawing from. Obviously Rob Pat is great, John David Washington gives a decent amount of character to a protagonist who is literally credited as “The Protagonist”, Sir Michael Caine swoops in to get 5th billing despite being in a single scene and that’s it.

Ludwig Göransson has a really interesting score that I wanna listen back to and deconstruct what it’s doing musically, but it’s not available yet. Either way, good score, but almost ruined by the mixing of this movie. I get Nolan likes his loud mixing, he likes big explosions and bassy musical hits, but there’s a certain point where the mix is downright awful and totally drowns out a lot of good sound design, score, and most importantly dialogue. It’s clearly a choice from Nolan to have his films sound this way, and yeah there is a certain level of powerful intensity of feeling an explosion shake you to your core with the bass, but I think his mixes need to be reigned in a hell of a lot more to have a better balance between intensity and basic accessibility.

There's more I want to talk about, but I’ll save it. I can’t specify exactly why I think it’s so great without diving into full on spoilers, and I want a bit more time to sit with it anyways, but suffice to say I think it’s excellent. Not one of Nolan's best, but still a bold, interesting experience that I’m sure is going to grow on me upon multiple rewatches.

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