Tenet ★★★½

My mask was having a workout during Tenet, it was stretching when I was gasping, it was letting out the carbon dioxide when I was laughing, & it was protecting me from COVID. A versatile tool, indeed.

I will say, those exertions on my masks cemented the fact that I was genuinely enjoying Tenet. Witnessing its gargantuan spectacle made me feel like a child again, almost making me oblivious to the convoluted storytelling, which is definitely an issue. This issue is amplified by Nolan's "inverse" sound mixing, which doesn't prioritize dialogue, leaving lines feeling like a code to be cracked. However, I find solace in the sound mix. The ambient sounds and the incredible loud score manages to transport you into the world of Tenet, and in ways, propagates its mantra of "don't try to understand it, just feel it". And, feel I did.  But, in case you're wondering, I understood the broad strokes of Tenet.

Tenet is Nolan's take on the spy films of yore. It's dumb & over the top. The entire film rests on its contrived overarching plot of armageddon, without ever raising the stakes through storytelling. Even, the villain's motives are laughable, essentially being "if he can't live no one can". Tenet can feel outdated with these elements, and it's clear Nolan is attempting to mask this through break-neck pacing and inverse sound design. But, it can feel like the simplest of plot points can be missed. This is just the tip of the iceberg of how Nolan's script and direction often clash in Tenet.

His approach towards the characters in Tenet is treating them like pieces on a chessboard, strategically revealing them. It works wonderfully in the confines of the movie and the conclusion takes the loose characterization threads and bonds them. But, Nolan is unable to completely fixate on this approach and the inclusion of Elizabeth Debicki's character comes off as an afterthought. It's an artificial attempt to establish humanity in this story. Her character is from a bygone era, only there to be exploited constantly for some relatability and an emotional connection because she's a mother and has a child.

The main attraction of Tenet is the concept itself. Nolan communicates time inversion with grace, and the visualization of it is breathtaking & jaw-dropping. I have genuinely no idea how they managed to capture these scenes. Through its premeditated editing, the inversion of time between perspectives is understood, and the narrative is satisfyingly bookended, à la Interstellar.

I'm under the sentiment that Tenet is flawed, but it had me grinning and dumbfounded throughout. It’s so beautifully made from a filmmaking standpoint that’s it’s hard not to fall in love. I haven’t quite seen anything like it before. In a world ravaged by the coronavirus, Nolan reminds us of the gravitas of the theatrical experience with Tenet, and on that level, he didn’t disappoint.

Sammy liked these reviews