Tenet ★★★½

Tenet - 7/10

There’s a line Elizabeth Debicki gives about a third of the way through the movie “Don’t try to understand it, Feel it” and this feels like as much a guide to enjoying Tenet as it is a cop out by Nolan.

If you know me quite well, you know that I have a complicated history with Christopher Nolan. When Nolan was first announced as the director of Batman Begins, I was admittedly hugely excited - the prospect of a director from the indies bringing his mature sensibility to Hollywood Popcorn fare felt genuinely kind of revolutionary. I was unable to see at the time how this would not only come to define the career of Christopher Nolan but the film industry as a whole. Since then, Nolan has delivered spectacle after spectacle to what I feel are diminishing returns. Early on films like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight showed exactly what imprint he could make on a blockbuster, but it felt like as his films became more outsized, he lost touch with the humanity that made his early films so affecting.

So does Tenet correct this mistake? Yes. And No. I think you could easily watch Tenet and say this is Nolan’s most removed film yet, one that is completely overplotted and a vehicle for larger setpieces. But what Tenet has that recent Nolan movie have not for me is a real sense of personality, there’s actual moments of wit and humor, not all of them work but they help to create a semblance of humanity. What Tenet also has that past Nolan films have lacked is ELIZABETH MOTHERFUCKING DEBICKI. Elizabeth Debicki is hardly new to film and I have been singing her praises for awhile (especially her turn in 2018’s Widows) but she absolutely dominates Tenet in a way I didn’t expect. Most Nolan films in recent memory have lacked someone as recognizably human for me. Elizabeth Debicki takes a role that so easily could have been (and probably was written as) a standard damsel in distress and creates the most complex and interesting character in one of Nolan’s films in over a decade. Every bit of pain, strength, distain and swagger are communicated by just a look or how she flips a line, it makes material that could have easily been hackneyed feel emotionally resonant.

Now - on the otherhand, I don’t want to oversell the film as Nolan’s grand return to master filmmaker. I used the phrase “overplotted” before and holy shit, the last third of this film is truly a bit of a mess. Many will leave the theaters scratching their heads wondering if Nolan just blew their mind by sheer density of the concepts he explores - but honestly, it’s through lack of clarity in the plotting. The events that unfold are easy enough to understand, but Nolan is so obsessed with the spectacle that we watch much of it unfold without truly understanding the stakes. This leads to an ending that makes sense in hindsight but all feels a bit vacuous in the moment. 

Still - if you can try not to understand it but “just feel” it then Tenet is an entertaining sci-fi riff on a James Bond film the way Inception was on a heist film. The difference is this one is handled in a way that is surprising for a Nolan film - much messier, but more human.

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