This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
man123’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t see Tenet as a particularly intense film, as I actually feel it’s the Nolan film with the lowest stakes to date, aside from maybe Following. I do however agree that the characters are poorly developed at best and nonexistent at worst, but unlike most, I see this as far from a bad thing. Whereas the dialogue of Nolan’s previous works have been dedicated to explicitly depicting character relationships and themes to the audience as if they can’t handle understanding thematics any other way, Tenet disposes of any pretence of explicit thematics and even character development period, and is all the better for it.
A common complaint I’ve seen against the dialogue here is that it lacks subtlety and despite the dialogue being primarily exposition, remains nonsensical throughout its runtime. I would disagree with this assessment however, as I actually feel this features Nolan’s most subtly displayed themes to date. By focusing on a nameless man known only as “the protagonist”, a character assumed to be dead by the average person and now essentially owned by the government, in the same way one may own a car, and basing the logic of its time travel upon the simple and often repeated line “what's happened’s happened”, Nolan creates a universe, not unlike our own, where human life is treated as a commodity by those who assume power over us, as well as where all human action is ultimately pointless as we remain powerless to the hand of fate.
Another complaint I’ve seen against the film is that the dialogue is primarily focused upon exposition, only serving to treat the audience like children who can’t understand the pretty basic logic of the film, however, this is, yet again, a thing I very much admire about the film. White the rest of Nolan’s filmography has primarily featured dialogue that only serves to move its characters from one point to another, in both a development and thematic sense, the dialogue here only serves to move the depthless characters (a word I use very loosely) from one physical action and location to the next, with every line serving to only move them in that direction, with no real room for thematic interpretation or space to really relate to the characters. Given the grand sci-fi concepts the film focuses on and the genuinely astute capitalist and political satire that I mentioned briefly before, it can be seen (as I most certainly do) that Nolan wrote this dialogue with a very modern sensibility in mind, as the very direct and ultimately meaningless nature of the dialogue can be reflective of the way in which the current state and influence of technology and the various assets associated with it have affected connection and relationships to the point where almost all human communication is now nothing more than a means to get to an ultimately useless end. With this in mind, all the pieces really add up (or at least they did for me), and Nolan’s writing choices here go from hilariously inhuman to genuinely kind of genius and upsetting.
As I stated, I view Tenet as a very low stake film. Perhaps a mistake on Nolan’s part, but by basing the film around the intertwining themes of time and fate, he’s created a work where the actions taken by its characters as well as the ultimate effectiveness of their actions is never in question, as by the very start, having the knowledge of both where Neil is from and the very fact that the inversion technology is from “the future”, a future that will inevitably exist and continue to exist regardless of anyone’s attempts to prevent that, the ultimate objective to stop Andrei (played hilariously by Kenneth Branagh) becomes one that, although necessary, is never given any true weight as we all know that there’s no possible way his actions will have any true impact in the end.
Of course, beyond the themes, which are easily the most interesting and subtly expressed of Nolan’s career, the film works impeccably well as sci-fi action spectacle too. The action here is infused with a sense of life and style seemingly uncommon for the modern blockbuster. Whereas most big action blockbusters nowadays seem to operate upon the believe that “bigger is better”, Tenet keeps most of the action rather up close and personal. The biggest Nolan gets in this is in the final action scene, but even there, it’s all kept within one singular space, again, as a means to an inevitable end and very little more. By keeping the action far more focused upon the personal combined with these ambitious and utterly unique time-travel concepts, Tenet remains far slicker and, as a result, more fun than any non-Bay directed action blockbuster since around 2010.
Overall, I believe Tenet to be Nolan’s magnum opus and arguably his finest achievement as both a director and screenwriter. It’s an incredibly witty, observant, sexy, subtly humorous film that also displays an uncommon level of subtlety from Nolan that somehow only makes me more upset at the lacklustre writing on display in his other works. It is by far the finest blockbuster in a while, and I hope Nolan can only continue to live up to this quality for the rest of his career.
Also The Protagonist and Neil definitely fucked and that’s just objective fact