Tenet ★★★½

I drove to another fucking state to see Tenet, which became my new least favorite Christopher Nolan film, so, uh, joke's on me? But subpar Nolan is still pretty good stuff, and they can't all be...eight out of ten Christopher Nolan films. And they definitely can't all be Inception, which is the most obvious comparison point as another mindbending action film that plays with time. But whereas Inception spent a whole hour explaining how everything worked, Tenet spends about five minutes and literally has a character say, "Don't try to understand it." I still tried to understand it. I never understood it. The central idea at the center of Tenet—a cold war with the future that involves time inversion—is fascinating as hell, but it asks you to take a whole lot on faith (which, incidentally, is another concept the film explores). So, you know, sometimes things go forwards and sometimes things go backwards and when they go backwards it looks really cool, don't try to understand it. But if the audience is not meant to understand it, it's very hard to establish stakes and consequences and execute setups and payoffs, so there are so many scenes where it's unclear why the characters are doing what they are doing and also what they are doing. Look, I know Nolan films are generally confusing but I promise you this is next-level confusing, and it will probably make MORE sense the second time around, but it's not nearly as clear and air-tight a plot as I expect from Nolan. This is Nolan doing a spy movie, and that's neat, although it really drags in the first half as it spends a lot of time trying to get to Kenneth Branagh's over-the-top horrible villain. Luckily, Elizabeth Debicki does her damndest to be the heart of the film, even though she does not succeed, through no fault of her own. John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, on the other hand, have a fun rapport and end up being the actual heart of the movie, with one Washington line reading at the end being possibly the only moment of true genuine emotion in the film. The second half in general is pretty fucking cool, and it's got some exciting twists and turns, a couple of which are par for the course for this kind of movie but one that gave me warm Prestige vibes in that "Goddammit, the movie was telling you this THE ENTIRE TIME" way. I only wish I understood how any of this goddamn shit works because if I know Nolan, it should somehow make sense, but there's not enough information to track it all properly. There are some neat action scenes, obvs, though they're not quite as mindblowing as I hoped, and Ludwig Göransson's propulsive percussive score ends up being a natural fit for a Nolan spy movie. I appreciate the ambitious scope here—I always do with Nolan—but the execution is pretty messy. Still, even if it doesn't totally come together, I do love the bones of it, and John David Washington deserves to have his star continue to rise.

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