Tenet

Tenet ★★

I'm gonna try and structure my reviews from now on (at least for new releases). I'll look at 7 major areas of filmmaking: writing, acting, photography, sound, editing, FX, and art direction. Nobody reads these reviews, but analyzing movies is an outlet for my anxiety/OCD tendencies, so I need some sort of structure here or I'll just end up writing like James Joyce.


Takeaway:
The most Nolan-y Nolan film yet, and not in a good way. Since it's trendy to hate Nolan on Letterboxd, I'd like to clarify that I'm a huge fan of several of his films. But between this and Dunkirk I'm starting to wonder if he's lost the ball.


Writing:
Bland and surpringly unoriginal for Nolan. Even his most emotionless, confusing stories are usually compelled by unique plots and settings that overcome his lifeless characters and heavy exposition (Interstellar, Inception, The Prestige). Other than the mechanics of fight scenes, everything in this script has been seen before. It was like watching Ethan Hunt use the remote control from Click. The confusing, melodramatic plot and recursive narrative make it impossible to become invested in any character or feel real tension for their fates. The characters are largely impersonal and bland, anyways.

There is also some terrible dialogue in this movie, too. "Including my son" and "Mission accomplished", I laughed out loud at both. I can't believe he spent 5 years on this script.

A digression: Tenet reinforces my opinion that time travel is a stupid fucking narrative device that should never be used except as a gimmick or a vaguely defined Macguffin (Terminator, Back To The Future). What's funny is Nolan did time travel right in Interstellar. People HATED that movie's ending, but I thought it was mysterious and magical enough to allow for suspension of disbelief. The more you try to meticulously explain shit about entropy or physical determinism, the more the narrative disappears up your own asshole.


Acting:
Performances are all fine, considering they're inhabiting the lifeless husks of Nolan's imagination. Debicki and Branagh are the standouts, probably because their characters have some level of emotional depth. I firmly believe he cast Debicki solely because her height was required to make THAT scene work, although it is sort of ridiculous to watch her cower before her 5'9" husband. JDW and Pattinson are... fine.


Photography:
Cinematography is crisp, competent, and bland. Standard Nolan.


Sound:
I think supervising Dunkirk's sound editing rendered Nolan deaf. That's the only explanation for how he managed to fuck up this movie's audio mixing so badly. Key points of dialogue or emotional/comedic beats are masked by useless background noise. However, the score, when audible over the din, is excellent.


Editing:
No real qualms here. For all the script's confusing bullshit, the editor did a great job helping the audience stay oriented within action scenes. Pace is maintained at a steady breakneck pace. There were some scenes (shipping container) with abrupt cuts and others without proper establishing shots or transitions, but with how much shit they had to cover I don't blame the editor at all.


FX:
Pretty fuckin' rad. I don't know how the fuck they coordinated those fight scenes but Jesus, they were smooth. Probably the standout area of the film.


Art:
Because Nolan's work is so inherently austere, it's hard to give any real feel to the world or characters. However I would say they did a good job. The costumes and sets are fleshed out and carefully crafted. The design for the inverters is pretty cool—they manage to look both ancient and futuristic at the same time. All around quality work.


I think I might actually devise my own metric system for rating these movies, at least for new releases like this. I don't want to take the fun out of a spontaneous reviews, so maybe upon repeat viewings I'll just stick to gut feeling rather than metrics. But for big new releases it helps me defend my positions and organize my thoughts.