hannah’s review published on Letterboxd:
At some point in the film I checked my phone and wondered when it would be done, which made me feel palpably guilty. I adore Nolan films and I was so excited for this, but I was let down. (also wth does "tenet" even mean they talk about it opening doors and he only uses the word like once i don't get it)
Some people say the film is confusing and others complain that that’s an invalid reason to dislike it. But like… it’s not that the concepts themselves are confusing so much as, the way it’s executed. For a movie stuffed, chock-full, overflowing with exposition, we have little to no idea what’s going on or who anyone is for most of the film— and more importantly, we have no idea why it’s all happening. This isn’t Nolan’s first movie with confusing and intricate, complex concepts. But the reason it works in some of his other films, and not here, is that there he gives enough connection points to the audience that they aren’t alienated. He finds ways to help the audience understand, even minimally, what is going on and why it’s going on. Here, nothing is explained, we’re just expected to keep up at breakneck speed, with a blaring score making half the dialogue imperceptible. (I loved the score itself, but at times it was a bit much ngl.)
My problem isn’t that Nolan makes smart films, my problem isn’t being confused. I expect to be confused by his films. My problem is that it isn’t well written. Nolan is like some genius who’s been cooped up alone with nothing but his marvelous brain, writing his magnum opus thesis, and then he comes out and rushes it to the newspapers and magazines without ever checking to make sure it’s comprehendible or coherent. And since it’s Nolan, ofc they publish it without hesitation or consideration of, oh, does this translate? It’s not that the concepts are so lofty in this film, it’s that he doesn’t explain them at all. I’m sure all the concepts are super cool and really interesting, but I couldn’t even tell what was going on or who was involved or why JD Washington was even there. Or why anyone was there. There’s no CONTEXT. That’s the word I’ve been looking for. No context. We go along from scene to scene with as much explanation of things as someone with amnesia who has been sent to live their normal life with no idea what they're doing or why or who anyone is around them. It’s like you’re dumped in the middle of the ocean and expected to swim and keep pace with the speedboats. And just when you think you are starting to get it, something else throws you off. Worst of all, though, there’s no clear motivation. We don’t find out the MAIN REASON TO STOP BAD GUY till the third act, so why have they been doing what they were doing up until that point?
Nolan attempts to tie in some character connection and emotion by adding the plot with the woman, but because we don’t know why our main character cares so much about her, or why she’s important (I don’t even recall why he went to see her in the first place or what the drawings had to do with anything), it all seems very pointless and dull. Robert Pattinson’s character was my favorite, but besides him, I really didn’t care that much what happened to any of them. Nolan’s quick pacing and nonstop action make for a really fun viewing experience, but when it’s not preceded by any sort of character development or introduction, it’s hard to care. Who is anyone? Where is anyone? What are they doing? Why?
This whole movie felt underwater to me. I really, really, really wanted to like it, but I got bored at points, honestly. From a technical, production standpoint, it’s gorgeous and extremely well done. But from a story standpoint, the writing could use a lot of help. There’s a barrier between what Nolan is trying to say, and what he gets across/makes evident. Confusing isn’t the issue, but communication is, and nothing is communicated, and emotion feels artificial, and— I really wanted to love it, I did. The fight scenes are immaculate, the cinematography is beautiful… I want to love it. But I really don’t get it. A notable exception is that Branagh was undeniably a brilliant villain, and I did feel some tension in his scenes with his wife. No matter how little explanation or connection there was, seeing situations like those unfold (especially the scene with the table he brings her to see, and the scene with the cuff links, to keep it spoiler free) just brought this awful feeling to the pit of my stomach and put me more on edge than any of the big stakes action scenes.
Overall, yes, it’s confusing, but the idea itself isn’t the problem. Inception is confusing but it still worked for me. Interstellar is confusing, and even though I don’t like the third act, it worked better for me because it had genuine character connection and emotion. The way Tenet’s story and motivations are communicated (and not clearly at that) is the problem. Tenet stands on one side of the two way glass, waving at us, calling out over loudspeakers for us to keep up, but all we see is our own reflections, wondering what’s going on. I will definitely rewatch it when I get the chance, and I hope to understand it better. For now, I’m a bit disappointed.