Tenet (Spoiler-Free) Review:
“Einstein: Time is relative
Nolan: Time is my relative“ - Random YouTube Comment.
To say that Tenet is confusing is an understatement. To say Tenet is a bad movie is idiotic. Now to state Tenet as a flawed-yet-brilliantly-executed movie is admissible. Before I begin my review of the movie I wanted to address some toxic fanboys on the internet blindly shielding Tenet from its negative aspects and calling it a masterpiece. It’s definitely not. I read so many reviews either classifying the movie as either good or bad with most of them failing to express their thoughts with proper criticism. To say reviewing Tenet without spoilers as an arduous task is an understatement. But I’m still gonna try. So here we go..
A Mind-Numbing Spectacle To Gasp At:
When Christopher Nolan went on to conceive the idea of Tenet , I can’t even begin to comprehend what exact thought process he had , to even consider this would possibly be made into a film. Because the concept is astoundingly genius as we can only marvel at his level of intelligence and competence to be able to write a proper screenplay for this film. It’s no wonder it took him about fourteen years to form the crux of the whole plot and six more to finish his final draft. This film has by far the most complicated plot structure that Nolan has ever attempted. Our protagonist is on a mission trying to prevent something much more dreadful than a nuclear holocaust. The way the story is structured kind of reminded me of Nolan’s earlier work , Memento. But on a much more ambitious and grandiose scale.
There are events that are happening throughout the film , one action set piece after the other , where you just pause multiple times and think , “Wait , how on earth did they manage to do that!?”. The technical aspects of this movie are simply mind-boggling to say the least. We are so numb after watching CGI sequences over the years in big-budget commercial flicks that when Nolan shows you something that is actually happening on screen , our brain is unable to process the absurdity of the visuals as it is happening. Nolan has proved from time and time again that the magic of practical effects can never be dethroned by CGI ever, and Tenet is his best work in terms of practical effects yet. Of course there is CGI , but he uses it only when necessary without ruining his audience’s viewing experience. Nolan teams up with Hoyte , his cinematographer, whom he previously worked with on Dunkirk to create certain sequences that almost seem impossible to pull off and are undoubtedly going to be looked up to for years to come.
Characters of Tenet:
We know why Cobb did what he did in Inception. We know why Cooper had to leave his daughter for basically a mission that doesn’t guarantee his return in Interstellar. We, as the audience , are aware of the stakes of the story and thus are invested in it following the characters Nolan has presented us , till the credits roll. Tenet doesn’t do that. There is no easy way to put this.
We are introduced to a bunch of characters and thrusted into the plot without focusing too much on why the characters behave the way they do throughout the entire film. We are supposed to root for a certain character (which I won’t spoil) for most of the latter part of the film ; yet we simply don’t as there was not much time given to that character for the audience to care. This happens with multiple characters including the protagonist as they are simply used as means to drive the core sci-fi concept of the film forward, even though some crucial events require the audience to understand on an emotional level. For the record , all of our lead actors , from the charming Robert Pattinson to our dashing lead David Washington, shine with what material they are given in every sequence. The antagonist too lacks depth to make an impact. We get what the antagonist is trying to do but since the character isn’t that flushed out , we don’t feel anything for him or against him.
Nolan’s Exposition Problem:
Expository dialogue and the way it is staged and shot is another area where Tenet doesn’t impress the viewer as well. This was one of Nolan’s major criticisms in his previous films as well. Personally it didn’t bother me for any of his other work. But Tenet has way more exposition than anything he has ever done and it is presented in a rather unimpressive manner. Even the editing feels odd at times during certain conversations. If two characters are talking , the camera just keeps cutting back and forth at times rapidly making it hard to follow what they are talking about. There is no proper staging or any movement of the camera during these types of scenes and it just feels like we are taking down rapid notes from our stupid school teacher who wouldn’t narrate properly. Coming to sound design , there were two crucial areas in the film where the dialogue was shrouded with either the environmental noises or the soundtrack which was so bizarre as there were not even subtitles for those scenes.
Speaking of the Soundtrack , Black Panther’s composer Ludwig has done a fantastic job in his first collaboration with Nolan presenting Tenet with his unique style of music combined with a theme of urgency that is a staple in other works of Nolan.
The Final Act:
The issues that I had with the film , for the most part , are redeemed in a way by a spectacular third act. The rules of the film are set and it’s properly executed in the climatic portions in a way that I can’t see any other director even daring to try with such attention to detail. It’s extremely complicated , fast paced , action oriented , ending in a manner that will exceed the viewers expectations and will certainly require multiple viewings.
With Tenet, I feel like Nolan knows exactly what he is presenting the audience with, all the flaws and spectacle. There are some movies almost everyone loves and some that are universally hated, but Tenet is one of those movies where if someone didn’t like it, you totally understand why they didn’t like it. Would this movie have worked perfectly if it was a five episode mini-series developing each character and reaching the full potential of the concept — Yes. But would Nolan , being a cinema devotee that he is , have done it — Absolutely Not. This film was shot in IMAX and tailor made for the theatre experience and it shows.
Despite its sizable shortcomings , Tenet is undeniably an experience like no other. If the film is understood, that experience is even more elevated. Concluding, I am gonna quote Mr.Nolan himself , “Don’t try to understand it, feel it.”
Rating : 8/10.
Have a good one.