Alttyrt’s review published on Letterboxd:
(NO SPOILER REVIEW). You have my word.
Now here is a completely different review:
Priya: The world needs Tenet.
Welcome back cinema, for real.
Most of all, after a long and arduous summer deprived of cinematic blockbusters, Tenet is still worth checking out, a true source of escapism from all the bad turn of events that so plagued 2020.
While Tenet is not Nolan's best work or even remotely better than Inception, he managed to make a complete subterfuge of the spy game he weaved into our minds, using both the classic tropes of espionage fiction and his signature time experimentation to craft something unique in his own spy film. It takes repeat viewings to get to the main gist of the film, but I will tell you when you finally cracked the complete code of the puzzle, it will be worth it.
These two issues hampered my complete appreciation of Tenet.
I also agree that the film had plenty of sound mixing issues, especially during the exposition scenes. It is as though Nolan chooses to prioritize bombastic music over important dialogue and the people speaking tend to deliver lines so rapid-fire that I tend to lose track of the important details. There are times where people speak in muffled/ mumbling tones (both masked and unmasked) that many of the information they delivered get lost in translation. Being the very first Nolan I actually watched in theatres, I was expecting more on the aural delivery of things. But alas, I had issues understanding pretty much most of the dialogue. A warning to Nolan fanboys: come prepared with a (fully sanitized) close-captioning device. Also, another warning to Nolan: if you want to really make people come to the cinema in the uncertain future, better buck up your sound mixing, dude. Don't make the next movie a PR nightmare guaranteeing a box-office bomb, please.
Unfortunately, I feel that The Protagonist's overall arc just pale in comparison to his other protagonists in his previous works.
Leonard Shelby is a man obsessed with his wife's murder, never letting his unique psychological condition from hampering his goals, only for us to realize the exact contrary. Cobb is a man so wracked with guilt and regrets that he cannot let go of his past to complete the one last job that can secure his freedom. Cooper is a man who sees the future that his children will live in and resolved to make a sacrifice to ensure they will live by finding a better world out there. Bruce Wayne overcome the fear of bats and dying over the course of 3 films. 3 FILMS! Heck, even his previous Dunkirk is all about these ordinary characters learning to survive amidst the brutal forces of nature, some growing in subtle ways and others revealing secrets of their own.
The problem is that The Protagonist (played by John David Washington), is probably the weakest protagonist among his other works. The problem is that while The Protagonist is designed with James Bond and Ethan Hunt in mind, Nolan doesn't take to account the emotional backbone these classic spy characters have or even their defining character development. While The Protagonist dresses up in fine suits, trots all over the globe in search of clues to the mystery, and gets in touch with women, he lacked something truly defining about him to match the superspy type or certain levels of humanity. Without getting into nitty-gritty details, for most of the film (about 2/3s of it), he lacked growth or important depth to make us truly attached to him. Instead of talking about him in detail, let's look at Nolan's other characters:
Despite the praises I have for the film in general, there are two major flaws that somewhat hampered my enjoyment of Tenet or make it one of Nolan's best.
You don't know where we stand
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
(Yeah, yeah, ooh-ooh, ooh)
- The Plan, Travis Scott
Bonus points for Nolan's audacious move with including a rap song in the end credits. Gone with the old, in with the new.
I also love the cinematography and music here. Hoyte van Hoytema knocked it out of the park once again with beautifully framed subjects, a natural aesthetic to the color grading even taking cues from Dunkirk or Interstellar to make for a breathtaking action film. And despite Hans Zimmer's unavailability to conduct the score, making it the first time since The Prestage without his usual collaborating, Ludwig Göransson excelled in taking Zimmer's mantle, avoiding copying or mimicking Zimmer's style in favor of his own take on action-movie fare. His score is as bombastic as Zimmer but still has his own creative essence to it, making for a welcomed change to his usual collaborator.
The action sequences in Tenet simply surpasses Nolan's other works. There are so many jaw-dropping action scenes that are purposely choreographed backward that it seemed as though the film is reversed when it's not. It gives the overall espionage film a heist flick vibe to it with the way these setpieces becoming grander and intense gradually as the film comes along. A car chase between forward and backward driving vehicles down a highway. An orchestrated 747 crash at an airport with fiery explosions to boot. An intense shootout at an opera house between terrorists and counter-terrorists at the beginning. And the pièce de résistance, the climactic heist set in the midst of a ruined city that seemingly is able to be destroyed and rebuild itself. And all of these setpieces, like all of Nolan's other blockbusters, are filmed practically without much aid of CGI and visual effects. It helps to make the film all the more authentic in keeping Nolan's desires to make for a quality cinematic experience (no wonder why Nolan is so against the film releasing on VOD in these unprecedented times). Plus, with a different change of editors in the form of Jennifer Lame taking the place of Nolan's usual collaborator, Lee Smith, the film is just as cohesively put together without losing the momentum in the pacing or even the visual flow. Watching these authentically filmed and edited action sequences just gives a unique satisfaction compared to other blockbusters.
Okay, I am having a headache thinking about what the film truly is about and so I just have to say that it is insanely complicated on first viewing. While Nolan takes inspiration from the spy films that inspired him, he weaved his experimentation with time to give added complexities to the film, challenging you even further than any other work of espionage. Even if your mind is sharp when watching the film, you will likely have a hard time taking in every subterfuge that Nolan throws into the mix. But once you reach the end, you have a somewhat rough idea at how all these events click into place and taking a whole new meaning to the palindrome title.
Besides Washington's The Protagonist (which I have some gripes to discuss later on, though I agree he is played very well by the up-and-becoming star much like BlacKkKlansman), the other characters are all intriguing in their own ways. Robert Pattinson plays a mysterious handler of The Protagonist who has secrets of his own that only add up at the end. Elizabeth Debicki is the film's own Bond Girl with her own troubled life and how much she desired to be free from the grip of her husband. Kenneth Branagh is the film's villain with one hell of a strange ability that on his own merits, gives the overall film so many complexities whenever he uses it. There's even the film's own Q played by Clémence Poésy and the typical shady arms dealer by Dimple Kapadia. But all of these characters help make The Protagonist's world a lot befitting a classic spy film, making for intrigue and suspense at the ever-shifting loyalties and characteristics as the film goes along.
While Tenet is not ranked highly among Nolan's works, his take on the spy film genre is just as memorable that stands out from the mid-range films now populating the cinematic landscape. Given the uphill struggle the film has to overcome in this uncertain environment, repeat viewings are necessary to help ensure Tenet gets the attention it deserved to win the box office throne of the year.
The film is what everything Nolan is: practically shot action sequences, a mindfuck of a story, his non-linear experimentation with time, his tribute to the spy films that influenced him in his younger days, even dynamic characters who shift loyalties in the ever-present spy game. For the first time, a true blockbuster is in cinemas, maybe a true sign that life will still go on despite the virus wreaking havoc in the modern world.
Now, if you reading this in the near future once the box office slows down and the DVD gets released, this film will get a definitive ★★★★½ for me. But as it stands, Tenet may not be the true masterpiece for Nolan but he certainly still nailed it in so many ways.
Finally, Tenet is released in Singapore, the first blockbuster we get since the pandemic started this year. And wow, I have a complete headache comprehending the film as a whole, the subterfuges in all of this spy game. But I can tell you, it's worth the wait.
Welcome back cinema, for real.
The Protagonist: This reversing the flow of time, doesn't us being here now, mean it never happened?
Nolan week (25/08-31/08) - FILM #3
The Dark Knight Rises