Matthew Furrier’s review published on Letterboxd:
If there was a literal embodiment of Time itself, I am pretty sure Nolan would fuck it.
Christopher Nolan has always been one of my favourite filmmakers out there. I've always admired how smart and thoughtful his movies are, and I think he has been a huge inspiration for me. He has received tons of criticisms during his career as a writer-director, but all of his movies have been critically acclaimed, loved by audiences, and earned a gigantic amount of money.
Tenet, is in ways exactly what you would think it is, and it's the logical, expectable step from Nolan in his career. I saw this because all of his movies since Memento, with the exception of the Dark Knight Trilogy have flirted with time, and the potential idea of time travel, and to see this come full circle here, where time travel is basically what this movie is about, is... expectable.
What's also expectable is a lack of emotional attachment to any character in the movie. In Inception, Cobb and his want to see his children is the emotional core, and it works. In Interstellar, it's the father-daughter relationship between Cooper and Murph, and in my opinion, most of it works. But. Even though sometimes these dramatizations and characters work, sometimes they really don't and Nolan has received tons of criticism for this, especially for the scene in Interstellar when the theme of the movie (which is love) is basically spelled out to the audience. At that point, Anne Hathaway could've just looked into the camera and wink.
So after Interstellar, Nolan has went and made something that was almost experimental, Dunkirk, where the few central protagonists basically function as living breathing VR goggles for the audience to experience the movie through, and in Dunkirk it works, it's simple, there is not much to the plot so there is not much to talk about, and it works as this extremely visceral experience. There is very little dialogue, so even when the music is very loud, it's not a problem. When the planes fly by, and it's really fucking loud, it's not a problem, because it WAS probably really loud in real life. And the movie looked great and had amazing setpieces with tons of practical effects, so everything worked perfectly: very little plot, characters, dialogue, and more music, and action.
After the critical acclaim of Dunkirk (which has a 94 on metascore, was nominated in 8 Oscar categories in total, and actually won 3 of them, which were, unsurprisingly, sound editing, mixing, and general film editing), Nolan decided to mix his passion and/or obsession with time, with the deeply visceral style of Dunkirk, and it turned out to be TENET.
Now Tenet is not a bad film, but it was certainly less than I expected. As mentioned previously, Dunkirk was praised for it's audio work in essentially every aspect, so it was a logical step for Nolan to do everything in that category similarly, but this time it fucking sucked and gave me a headache. It was a mistake for me to watch this in IMAX, because even when it is only a guy taking his clip out of his gun, and putting it back in, which should be a pretty normal and almost quiet thing to do, in this movie, even that is fucking loud. And I am cursing because it was upsetting, how unnecessarily bad the sound mixing was.
When you dub a movie, at least in Hungary, the dub is always louder than the actual actors in the movie, so I could actually understand most of what the actors were saying, but I 100% believe that if you watched this in original language, you won't understand 70% of it. Of course, even the dubbed version had parts where I was struggling to understand the lines of the characters.
But really, the music is sooo unnecessarily loud, that the whole cinema became gigantic vibrator and I hated it, Nolan, please, learn how to sound mix again, you did it well before, you can do it well again.
The music itself is from Ludwig Görannson, which is of course an exception, because in the past few years Nolan has always worked with Hans Zimmer, one of the best and most popular composers of our time. Hans and Nolan always made the scores for his movies special, in Interstellar the organs really make it unique, in Inception one of the tracks is famously a slowed down version of the french music in the film, in Dunkirk, they used the Shephard tone, which is basically a way for the music to always go up and up in tone, so it was always intense, and I was expecting something clever here too, which was, of course, reversed music.
Reversed music in and of itself is the LOGICAL idea for this movie, because we are working with time inversion, but it was painfully distracting, and instead of adding to the experience, sometimes it really detracted from it. And also, just generally, it wasn't anything special, it was almost just a copycat version of Zimmer's music from the other Nolan movies, which was disappointing. But I am really glad that Zimmer is working with Villeneuve on the new Dune movie, it really will be a masterpiece, won't it?
And as I said... Dunkirk was successful without any emotional attachment to anything that was happening in it, so Nolan went ahead and did... exactly that, which is probably the worst thing about this movie. I'd probably excuse mediocre soundtrack and awful sound mixing because I can always watch it at home where I have the full control on the Volume of the movie, but I almost didn't care about what was happening, what really made me care was the gimmick of the reverse stuff, but other than that, I really didn't give a shit about any of the characters, and the plot was sooo cold and objective, that I will honestly just watch some of the action scenes again but I am not sure I wanna revisit any of the character stuff.
But the visuals of this movie are really exceptional - sometimes. Nolan always sets the bar for the technical stuff of his movies really high, and TENET is no exception (apart from the sound, which is EXCEPTIONALLY bad). The gimmick of having multiple people or objects in the same frame, where some of them are going forwards and some of them are going backwards in time didn't really get old after they started doing it, it's something exceptional, and unique, to my knowledge it was only really done in 2016's Doctor Strange, but even there, it was just a CGI extravaganza, while in this, you can tell that most of it was achieved practically, which is insane.
Sometimes you can kind of see that the actors are pretending to do something backwards so that when they reverse the footage it looks like it's forwards, but most of the time you can't really tell, and it's where the movie is at it's best.
There is a fight scene between someone backwards and someone forwards and I didn't know how they storyboarded it, I still don't know how they did it without CG. The practical effects are amazing, and Nolan's determination to keep everything real really pays of here as something truly special, from a filmmaking perspective, it never doesn't look good.
Apart from these amazingly interesting fight or battle scenes however, the final big battle scene of the movie is basically a snippet from a war, which is probably also the influence of Dunkirk, the whole scenery felt like it was out of some kind of war or nuclear fallout, which it was, and that scene probably had the most amount of computer generated effects, and I tried to spot them, but I was never sure, so... good job Nolan.
Also, something I wanna add is that, even though he has changed his cinematographers since Inception, Nolan still shoots his flashback scenes the same way, which was nice to see, they still have very quick editing, handheld, and they still don't really show us everything in full detail, which is really similar to a memory and I really appreciate it. Hoyte von Hoytema btw is pretty good in this, I found this movie to be extremely similar to both Dunkirk and Interstellar, visually, it looked great, even though they really didn't play around with lighting in this one.
One of the biggest problems with the movie is the pacing, where in the first about 60 minutes, apart from the beginning huge action sequence in Kiev, there is an abundance of scenes dedicated to characters reciting exposition, sometimes it's just them walking in random streets, sometimes they are sitting in chairs, but it's genuinely awful, I don't know why Nolan had to set up all of these plotlines and stories so carefully and full of detail, when most of them weren't needed, and the "show, don't tell" mantra of cinema is basically raped in the beginning of Tenet.
The funniest thing is, that all the time travel stuff, even though it was complexly told, it's all pretty simple and easily understandable, what's much less understandable, is the beginning exposition dumb about Kat, and Andrei, and that Indian woman, and just the plot generally. You can kinda get what happens in the movie just by paying attention to what's happening on screen, but what the characters say to each other about paintings and shit, it's all so needlessly convoluted and complicated, that the grounded part of the movie becomes the most confusing, I don't care about the paintings, Chris, I care about time reverse action! Give me more of that!
But once the action kinda starts to kick in, with the highway sequence, the movie improved significantly.
If you haven't seen the movie, I recommend you to see it because people seem to be enjoying it, and form your own opinion about it, if you HAVE seen it, you can continue because I'll have MAJOR SPOILERS from now on.
But... the script. I kinda had my problems with the filmmaking but at it's core it's well done, but the script is simaltenously fucking stupid and ridiculously smart. It's smart because the time travel, cause and effect, multi-dimensional part of the story works really well. The type of time travel Nolan always does, which is this loop type, and not the we-can-change-the-future type (from Terminator 2), always works because it has very simple set-ups and payoffs. But it's also what makes things predictable, I knew from the get-go that Neil had something to hide and that it wasn't the first time that he and the "Protagonist" met, I knew it from the get-go that one of the central male characters will go and found Tenet after the events of the movie, and I predicted a lot of time travel stuff because filmmakers can't ignore the chance to jerk off to themselves.
Neil being the one who sacrifices himself at the end was probably the most clever thing to emerge from the movie, because at that point every reversal made sense, and it was satisfying. But it also could've been a scene which wasn't just smart in it's execution, but also could've been an emotional point of the movie, one that actually makes it stand out, which is something that Nolan did really well in some of his previous movies, but he didn't develop Neil, or the Protagonist, at all, so there is no emotional pay-off to it.
I like the idea of Neil and the Protagonist having a past (or rather, a future), but really, it should've had a bigger impact.
And like... it's smart, because it works, but also, it's not that special, Primer from 2004 did everything Tenet did much better, also, I think the fucking third episode of Harry Potter did this better too, but... whatever.
The problem is... the writing. The only 2 characters that actually receive some charaterizations, and whose relationship actually is... something, are Kat and Andrei (I had to look up the woman's name), but Kat's actress doesn't really get any moment to shine, and Andrei is so over-the-top, that in a scene which was supposed to be serious, where the man was basically physically abusing this poor woman, I started laughing because Kenneth Branagh went too far, and I don't blame him, I blame Nolan for trying to do another Joker. Also, Andrei's motivations are painfully simplistic and dumb, he has this 1 sentence that defines him "what isn't mine, can't be anyone else's", and this is the reason why 1, he doesn't let Kat go away from him, 2, this is the reason why he wants to destroy the entire world, and all of the past, present and future, because he will die of cancer, and if he can't live then nobody else deserves to do so either. It was fucking stupid and I can't believe that Nolan is the same person that wrote Andrei, and the multi-layered, complex character of the Joker.
The other actors are both fine, I watched the movie with hungarian dub so when I will inevitably watch this again, at home, in original language, I'll probably have to say more about the performances, but Robert Pattinson continues to add tons of charisma and confidence but humanity to his characters, and John David Washington (who has an awesome fucking name) is pretty likable and a fairly OKAY PROTAGONIST.
TENET, is extremely uneven, it's a giant flex from Nolan about his filmmaking and what he can do with movies, but it's also blatantly flawed in both it's sound department and the script itself. It's perfectly understandable and expectable how Nolan got here, but I believe he can bounce back from this and do something, that while reinvents the wheel, still gives us something emotional to care about. But at it's core, TENET offers a completely unique cinematic experience that ABSOLUTELY should be seen on the big screen.