Tenet ★★★

A 150-minute trailer. By the end of two and a half hours one still only has a general idea of the movie Tenet, it has failed to coalesce into anything one would generally think of as a "movie" with plot, characters, themes, and so on. Theoretically yes, Tenet does have these things, but on any meaningful level it doesn't at all. This is not (only), as would be in a normal "bad movie," because Nolan has attempted to establish these things and failed, nor even really that he has undercooked these things in favor of spectacle and goofy mechanics, though both of these things are somewhat true. What feels more accurate to me is that Nolan has created vague facsimiles of a themes, characters, a plot, etc, not necessarily out of apathy or disinterest but because he's still the kid for whom the actual content of a movie is secondary to the potential it has to bang around his head for days while spacing out in class and making little "pchoo" noises. A kid can fall in love with a movie without ever seeing it because they believe so wholeheartedly in its potential to be the greatest movie they've ever seen. Tenet more than probably any other film I've seen, except maybe the other Nolans I haven't seen since I was a young teen, banks on this feeling. Because the time inversion mechanics are never even close to explained, because the relationships between the characters, not to mention the nature of the characters themselves, remains ambiguous, because it's not quite clear by the end of the film what has and has not been resolved, the overriding feeling when the film ends is that there's still a movie called Tenet, or perhaps some lengthy TV show, which you have yet to see.

If Nolan's cinema is a machine, as others have described it, it's not even a very good machine; its construction is certainly not tight or efficient, its camerawork is certainly not precise or thought-out, and it certainly inspires no sort of technological marvel. It is lifeless, sexless, and bloodless, however, with its only moments of vitality or humanity generally revolving around the abuse of its only female character, the payoff of which is that she momentarily jeopardizes the final mission by acting too emotionally. What Nolan's machine is good for though, credit where credit's due, is, for lack of a better term, trailer creation. I don't find much value in the end result of the film but I have to express that I am sincerely impressed that Nolan was able to pull this off at all. This is absolutely the film of someone who has fully realized what he enjoys in movies- namely, that one scene in a heist film where someone breathlessly explains the plan to someone else while the music thumps and the camera swirls around various impressive-looking locations- and is fully committed to creating a film that is nothing but. I won't deny that there are pockets in which he is able to create something genuinely compelling out of this, spasms of real excitement when he hits upon a genuinely excellent setpiece or clever use of his central gimmick, but these are no substitutes for control of pace. One can even imagine Debicki's ostensibly-shoehorned emotional subplot as something Nolan might have been genuinely excited to include, though as the only part of Tenet that really coheres normally, it's also the part that most glaringly reveals its emptiness. Tenet lacks substance, not because it isn't "deep" or whatever, but because it literally is a vaporous film by its very nature. Nolan is a genuine Méliès, delighting in his illusions, glorying in the trickery of the movie camera, but he is a Méliès of science rather than magic (and dumb-guy pseudo-science no less), and the difference is palpable.

Jacob liked these reviews