L o U’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Christopher Nolan" has become a household name for gracing studio cinema with his intellectualism. Reasonably so, that has become a marker of quality in the eyes of some noting most modern blockbusters do dumb down their audience. While treated as a god with a huge, strong following, he is also human. A fact that some seem to overlook in the face of the magic tricks he pulls off. Translation: he is still bound to create mistakes indelible and too large to not notice or be a bother. In how much its ambitions fail it, TENET is egregious, and is highly likely to produce a deeper, definitive understanding on Nolan as a filmmaker.
Bent on "gifting" his audience a "new" way to watch his films, Nolan's modus operandi in gaining their interest is by constantly imposing with a brainteaser conducted by a philosopher trapping them in a video game testing your sanity. If that doesn't paint a vivid image of how overwhelmingly perplexing it is, then what would, really? All because it's founded on conceit. There are several occasions where that can be transformed by the viewer into a charm, if he/she wills to. But here, that instance refuses to arrive.
Ounces of sincerity aren't to be found in Nolan's directorial gestures, and all that unveils is the blinding effects of intellectualism, supported by the idea of concept never becoming sufficient to carry a film because if anything, that turns into its poison. In the film's exhibition of technical brilliance then underlies a soullessness draining it of amusement. Nolan being Nolan, produces a counterpoint to the clinical nature exhausting us, as channeled by Clemence Poesy's character.
"Don't try to understand it. Feel it.", she says in a tone similar to an RPG NPC. How could we though when part of feeling everything we're being subjected to, is understanding why it's worth empathizing for the characters in the first place? An argument to that, it deprives us of; only moving forward to cripple us with exposition bombs, one-dimensional character drama, and incomprehensible action that makes the duration agonizingly felt. A tentpole picture rarely gets depressing in how sterile it is, so it's an unholy miracle for someone like Christopher Nolan to create one, right?
Unrelenting in his “cleverness”, he also raises the notion that what the film becomes is all according to us. Hence why John David Washington's character is named 'The Protagonist', why the logic may be polarizing. Arguably, that's quite fascinating which also renders the film's entire design admirable. But if you're an ardent defender of cinema and its rules, that just comes off as an excuse for poor, strained, desperate-for-fineness screenwriting by Nolan himself (which it definitely is) that comes nowhere near persuasive.
Other examples of what that encompasses would be using the female character (Elizabeth Debicki's Kat) as plot device, and a generator of superficial drama rendering The Protagonist her savior. Yikes. It's a disgusting creative decision displaying what could be Nolan's inner feelings. Cathartic, it definitely is not. On the flip side, that also makes discernible how Debicki becomes the only character with a soul to bare, even if with slightness and thinness intact to her background.
Dissecting its design, the film may come across as a lesser, bombastic version of 'Inception'. You know how it goes. Ignite loud, epic moments worshipping cinema as an art form, provoke and tickle minds with the mechanics of everything from which it expects you to question your own reality. Now, going back to Clemence Poesy's character's line, it's apparent that Nolan is presenting us with two ways to watch this film upon implanting stimuli in the aforementioned procedures carried out. Little does he know that both never or even come close to triumphing in compensating our stay with something to reward.
Feeling it flow is pointless, noting what we're tapping into is obstructed by the anomalies weaved. Meanwhile, trying to understand it is endlessly frustrating, almost torturous. Conceived from the irony of a seasoned filmmaker plagued with the treacherously excessive complacency and showiness of an ambitious first time director, the celebrated Christopher Nolan's eleventh film in his career is an absolute travesty. Think about it. It's hilariously apropos to the film's logic, too. Indeed, sometimes the ones with the most to say have the emptiest words to spare.