Roundstone’s review published on Letterboxd:
Nolans editing at its most experimental and realized yet. Tenet is a study of cause and effect in the vein of a spy film. It’s thematic ideologies don’t fully grab me in a sort of emotional way as of a first watch, but Nolans devotion to genre is so ambitious and detailed that it really does put about any other filmmaker in the studio system to shame. It makes me laugh when I see people complain about “robotic dialogue” or “exposition dumps” from Nolan as if most sci fi genre films aren’t full of both. What separates Nolan from them is his commitment to stick to the genre in his best works and not force a half assed connection to real life matters. While Tenet does have elements of establishment greed and domestic abuse in its themes, neither are particularly explored on a deep level as the film is mostly concerned with its very heady concepts.
Perhaps the most incredible aspect of Tenet though is in its last 30 minutes. In some ways similar to the cross cutting sequences of Nolan handling the multiple dream layers action in Inception or having all 3 narratives of air, water, and land converge in Dunkirk, Nolan literally goes to something I have never seen anyone actually do in cinema with his editing and showcase a sequence that holds no true linearity and the cause and effect is no longer clear. For the talk of paradoxes that we see in the film preceding this set piece, Nolans editing literally achieves the visualization of a literal paradox and it is one of the most incomprehensible, fascinating, and intense action sequences ever put to film.
As for the emotional value of Tenet, I didn’t find much in here as I was watching the film. For all the criticisms I have seen on Nolan being a “cold” filmmaker, I could never disagree more. He is by far one of the most emotionally impactful filmmakers I have ever seen. His films create such a strong feeling of tension and fear through his hyper realism, and yet always find a way to perfectly time their emotional cues that they always hit in such beautiful ways. Tenet does not completely lack emotional sequences however. Debicki’s character is definitely the soul of the film, not only with her motivation of reuniting with her son being the driving force of the film but perhaps the most emotionally substantial aspect of her character is her relationship with Branaghs Sator, the first real time we have seen Nolan tackle an abusive relationship. Additionally, Pattinsons Neil feels on the surface like a typical good support buddy to Washington’s Protagonist, but the ending implies that a rewatch could end up being a lot more emotional with our newfound understanding of Neil’s role in the story. I spent about 85% of the film just baffled at what was going on and only in the last moments did the films plot finally start to click with me as well as seeing some of these emotional arcs. And this is definitely intentional when Neil’s emotional arc essentially begins at the end of the film. It is the kind of film that demands a rewatch because almost by design it’s made to not be understood until the end so you can go back and deconstruct it backwards.
It is ultimately fascinating to see Nolans biggest budget film be also his most alienating and batshit insane film hes done yet. It takes more risks than any Nolan film prior while also containing some of his most subtle shots yet (Washington doing pull ups on a ship experiencing inverted movement, how Nolan visualizes repeat sequences from an inverted POV, etc) Right now I admire this film more than I loved it but I can’t wait to rewatch this film again to see how it plays out (in the safety of my home of course)