Christopher Nolan Challenges Audiences with “Tenet”/by Bryan Matthews

Before I get into this review, let me say that “Tenet” was a welcome venture back to theaters for me. I love the theater. I always have since my first movie experience there – “The Incredibles,” which will always have a special place in my heart. I had no idea that I missed it this much.  I was looking for a wonderful return to form, and this film, overall, did not disappoint. 

Christopher Nolan is one of the greatest directors working today. Since his freshman outing in 1998, he has used his unique voice to bring us brilliant films like “Memento,” “The Prestige,” “The Dark Knight” trilogy, “Inception,” “Interstellar,” and “Dunkirk.” His obsession with time can be seen in many of his stories, most notably in “Memento,” “Dunkirk,” “Interstellar,” and of course, “Inception.” Now, Nolan has finally (thanks, COVID-19) continued this obsession with his latest release: “Tenet.” 

To give a spoiler-free synopsis of the plot, the film is about a man who joins a coalition of operatives to put an end to events that could bring about World War III. This journey is made possible through the use of Tenet – the ability to go back in time or to enter a reversed timeline chronologically to change or alter past, present, or future events. Pretty complicated premise, right? You will be happy to find that Nolan makes sense of it as best as he can, explaining this concept for the whole nine yards and then some. That being said, this is not a film where you can check Instagram while watching. There should be a warning on the cover of this movie: “Do not try to multitask!” 

Nolan has always challenged his audiences with mind-bending plots, but this film is the bendiest of them all. The movie can be hard to follow in the moment because of the vastness of its concept. There are points in the film where you just have to go with it and trust that Nolan has an ace up his sleeve that he will reveal later on. The movie is very plot-heavy, and it seems even more so when the characters are having to spend a lot of time explaining it to the audience. But after a while, you learn that it is best to follow the film’s advice: “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”

Now, some of you may be asking a question: if the film did a pretty good job at portraying a bonkers premise, what doesn’t work? The biggest flaw is that there are no defined characters. Elizabeth Debicki’s character is the only one that is given any crucial relationships and consequences. That is about it as far as characterization goes and is the only true flaw of the film. For small technical issues, the sound and background score are extremely loud, drowning out the dialogue in a few scenes. In a movie where the exposition is so important to understand literally everything, the sound does become an unwarranted obstacle to the viewer at times. Maybe that is intentional, asking us to lean a little closer with every spoken word, but it did not have that effect on me. 

Despite those two flaws, the rest of the film is spot on. The action scenes are great: the punches land with force, the explosions pulsate off the screen, and the characters feel like they are in mortal danger. The performances, especially from John David Washington and Elizabeth Debicki, are great all around. The actors bring life to the script with their performances, which is great considering the film could have been a bunch of lifeless zombies explaining time travel for two and a half hours. The score, while overbearing at times, is really good and well-utilized. The directing, cinematography, sound design, practical effects, and special effects are all perfect – period. But perhaps the greatest achievement of the movie is that Robert Pattinson is not a sparkly vampire, which is always a welcome plus.

While not my favorite movie from Christopher Nolan, I can appreciate an original blockbuster that challenges the viewers to pay attention and follow a complex plot filled with twists, turns, and intrigue. It has been a while since I’ve seen a modern blockbuster where I could not explain the last thirty minutes of the movie as, “They fight.” Ultimately, “Tenet” was a breath of fresh air for me, and I cannot wait to see what will come next from Nolan.

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