luc’s review published on Letterboxd:
(outdated review, ignore all of this; keeping only for archival purposes)
Tenet is exactly what I expected and exactly what I didn’t want. In addition to being an insufferable and emotionless experience, it’s a perfect encapsulation of everything that plagues Nolan’s movies. In other words, far and away the worst entrant in his filmography.
In no way, shape, or form is this film even remotely inventive, groundbreaking, or intelligent. Every scene oozes with smugness, acting as if no action film in existence is this creative or even has a scale this monumental. It’s absolutely baffling, because the story is not only straight-forward, but has a story you’d find in an Asylum-esc mockbuster of the latest Mission: Impossible film. Take a moment and actually look past anything to do with time or inversion in this film, what exactly does this have to offer aside from your ‘Mr. Bad Guy has device and wants to destroy the world’ type action film? It’s as generic as they come. And sure, I wouldn’t like it regardless, but I wouldn’t be as endlessly bothered as I am had this film not acted like it was the smartest picture to ever grace the silver screen.
Inversion is one of the most aggravating gimmicks I think I may have ever seen. Aside from the admittedly thrilling action during the final act, it is only used at the scripts convenience and only exists for the occasional flashy visual and nothing more. There’s no logic to any of it either. And yes, I understand there needs to be leeway with a concept such as this, but one half-assed explanation does next to nothing to invest me. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a character directly says “try not to think about it.” Glad the movie explicitly acknowledged in its earliest moments that it makes no sense.
Nolan’s characters have always been an issue, as many of them exist as pieces of the plot rather than their own character. Interstellar remains my clear favorite of his filmography simply because that’s a film that has genuine emotion. In contrast, Tenet is devoid of any character or likability. Washington and Pattinson did the best with what they could, but in the end I feel nothing because there is no motivation. No reasoning for anything, they’re just a piece of the puzzle. Then there’s Elizabeth Debicki’s character, who like everyone else here, only exists to move the plot forward. She is traumatized from constant abuse, and her purpose in the film is quite literally accept this and blindly stay in the relationship. Thank you Christopher Nolan, very cool!
For a film that acts so ungodly important, it’s hysterical that the main antagonist has the depth of a second-rate Bond villain. I think Dr. Evil had more of a character. Kenneth Branagh’s performance might have been fun as an over-the-top villain had A) the film not taken itself overly serious and B) if he got rid of that abominable accent. It was hard to understand nearly half of what he was saying.
And yes, that leads into the sound mix. Seemingly since the Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has had this obsession with plaguing his films with the worst mixing during action sequences, and this is unquestionably his most egregious offense yet. Every single action set-piece has the dialogue absolutely buried under the music (Ludwig Göransson‘s score is genuinely incredible, easily a highlight of the film) and sound effects. If this film is good for one thing, it reinforces my claim that all theatrical releases should include subtitles. I can’t imagine any moviegoer fully hearing or comprehending all of the dialogue.
Tenet is a film devoid of emotion or character. An overlong and lifeless action film that somehow is brought even further down by a filmmaker with truly pretentious energy. A sufficiently acted and decently scored misfire of a film. Just terrible.