Tenet

Tenet ★★★

It's instructive to think of this film in relation to Tony Scott's Deja Vu (2006). Whereas Tenet is a narratively complex and coldly logical film that is empty at its core and ultimately feels ornamental, Deja Vu has a relatively simple narrative and purely emotional (to the point where emotion overcomes logic) that is ultimately deeply moving.

Tenet is a complex machine. It involves various time periods simultaneously acting against each other through the use of regular forward time and a sort of time travel that entails the reversal of entropy. I don't think all of the logic necessarily works, but it remains an impressive machine. Even one of Nolan's biggest weaknesses, his inability to clearly direct action, has been overcome. There aren't any action set-pieces in Tenet that would make McTiernan or To jealous, but even the clearly shot albeit not particularly creative set-pieces of Tenet are a major upgrade over Nolan's Batman films. The problem lies in the question of what this intricate machine actually does.

It does entertain momentarily, but does it offer much more than that? I admit that I was captivated by the idea of a fight against the future, but of course Nolan can't deliver on the emotional or philosophical implications of such a fight. He tries. He inserts a plot around Elizabeth Debicki that is supposed to be the emotional heart of the film, but falls completely flat. If there's something Nolan can't do is direct emotion, particularly love. Nolan never convincingly communicated the love Debicki's character is supposed to have for her child. Her performance is barely emotive. John David Washington impresses in that he is one of the rare actors who is able to get a cross some real human emotion in a Nolan film despite mostly being asked to be stoic and look cool. There's also some shoved in exposition about environmental catastrophe at the very end that amounts. A sad attempt at emotional resonance.

Deja Vu on the other hand is full of emotion. Denzel Washington's everyman is constantly emoting even when he's trying not to. You can see it on his face - as can his co-workers - as he falls in love with the image of Paula Patton. There are no complex intricacies to the time travel in Deja Vu - it's pretty straightforward - but by the end of the film you too have fallen in love with not just with the image of Paula Patton, but the image of Denzel Washington too! You desire them to be brought together even if means violating the very laws of time. It's no surprise then that Tenet believes it's a good thing time cannot truly be re-written and Deja Vu believes that it must be re-written.

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