Tenet

Tenet

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Just a bunch of bullshit.

Might expand my thoughts later.

EDIT: I'm expanding my thoughts now.

Nolan is the man because when he's at his best he, better than any other filmmaker I've ever watched, perfectly balances and pronounces high-concept, genre defying blockbusters with the human experience, drawing on all our heartstrings. Dunkirk failed for me because it broke that balance, swaying way too far towards the latter component, failing to deliver any of his signature mind-bending originality or brainy material. I can't help but feel that Tenet is a reaction to that lack of balance in his last film, Nolan now swinging completely towards the other end of the pendulum - a high concept action blockbuster with ZERO sense of humanity.

The first marker of Nolan's failure to engage in meaningful human stories revealed itself to me in Tenets characters, and the performances behind them. Nolan is so concerned with maintaining the confusingly fast pace of the film that he skims over every performance heavy scene in the movie (with the exception of maybe one or two), having his actors murder their already exposition-drought dialogue by not giving them the screen time necessary to find the niche's of their characters in their conversations. In doing this he butchers my suspension of disbelief, making it clear to me very early on in the film that the characters are only here to serve the spectacle, rather than using the high-concept premise as a psychological exploration of those characters, as was the case in Inception, Interstellar, TDK and his other pictures. More simply put, he loses me by letting me know that this movie is, on some-level, a sellout.

JDW and Pattinson are less than good, disguising the fact that they've developed no real characters by presenting themselves as "charming" the entire time. Debicki gives the only well performed scene in the film - her moment at the restaurant where she explains her marital entrapment situation to "the protagonist". Nolan understood that if he didn't enunciate the performance/emotion of this scene, he would lose the already paper-thin emotional draw of the film. Branagh easily gives the best performance, delivering on his powerful ability to subtly create character. Nonetheless, he cannot save how badly written his character is - a Russian mafia boss/arms dealer who wants to literally destroy the world because "If he can't have it, no one can". I never would've thought Nolan, the man who made Ledger's Joker, would be capable of succumbing so low. Yet he does, creating a character that is cliched and 2D enough for a Jumanji film. Branagh's character is the epitome of Tenet's failure to emphasize or care for anything about the human experience.

Then I have my general problems with the film that I think I share with many of my friends and audience members. The sound design was not well done. I missed so, so many vital pieces of exposition because I couldn't understand what people were saying. This leads me into my next point - my confusion. Let me get it out of the way and say that I understood none of the machinations of the plot after the 30(?) minute mark. One of Nolan's previous gifts as a sci-fi writer was to make the impossible feel possible, grounded. We as audience members believed in and understood the levels of dreaming in Inception, the nature bending space travel in Interstellar, the league of shadows in Batman. In Tenet, instead of trying to convince us once more of a high-concept premise with his newest idea of "Inversion", Nolan writes one of his most disappointing lines of dialogue ever - "Don't overthink it". Make no mistake, this line was not written towards and for JDW's character, this was written towards and for the very confused audience. With this line of dialogue, Nolan concedes to the audience that not only is this not a story about the human experience, this isn't even a story that's going to push the boundaries of what we understand about science and possibility (As was done in Interstellar, Inception), a mind bender. This is simply a film that was made for the purposes of showing cool, big budget action sequences. That's the only reason we got this.

It was with this one line that Nolan laid down the final nail in the coffin for me - I now neither understood the plot or had any reason to care for character. I was simply watching two and a half hours of action sequences that I largely wouldn't remember. With all this in mind, I came to what was my initial conclusion about the film - "Just a bunch of bullshit".

These were my initial thoughts leaving the film. They still largely are my thoughts even though @ZacFanni's great explanation of the film has opened my eyes to new possibilities. Because I deeply respect Nolan's past films I will rewatch this, preferably in theatres, where I'll be completely and totally open to changing my mind. Until then.

Solid 1 Star

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