Kurdt’s review published on Letterboxd:
A character 10 minutes into the film: “don’t try to understand it.”
Good advice! It’s not that it’s overly confusing, as it’s always pretty easy to follow the bones of the story and what the objective of each scene is. But it is easy to miss specifics. The pace of it means that the hows and whys are often obscured, and you don’t know until later whether the information you’re missing is being revealed soon of if you just missed something yourself. I would however thoroughly recommend seeing a subtitled screening if you can. I didn’t, and most of the stuff I missed was simply because it’s pretty hard to hear what’s being said about a third of the time. Remember when you got to see the opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises six months before it opened if you went and saw Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in IMAX, and everyone complained about how hard it was to understand Bane? This movie has the same problem in many scenes, especially the opening and whenever anyone’s wearing something obscuring their face. In some ways its commendable that Nolan is basically like “this is how it would sound in real life, so there,” but there were multiple instances when even scenes like Washington and Pattinson walking and talking along a busy road were being somewhat drowned out by traffic and the soundscape. I almost want to put forward a mini-theory that once Nolan realised how this would be released, and that piracy would potentially be a big thing, he went back and lowered the dialogue 10%. Because if it’s this tricky to hear the dialogue in a cinema, there’s no way you’re hearing it on a pirated CAM release (for what it’s worth, there were multiple anti-piracy warnings around and someone from the cinema came in twice during the screening with night vision goggles to [presumably] make sure no one was recording). I don’t know, maybe my hearing’s just bad.
It’s good, by the way. It might be even better when I watch it again, but there is also this nagging feeling that it’s just a poor man’s Inception. The film’s aren’t as similar as some of the early “it’s an Inception sequel!” rumours would have you believe, but they do have a similar structure, and this film is just a lot more clinical. There’s less of an emotional core running through this one (there is one, but it kind of comes and goes) and while it’s still affecting, the film is so relentless and pacy that it’s hard to truly be emotionally invested because you’re spending much of your brainpower trying to keep up. Like, it all works, but it also kind of feels like Nolan going back to his bag of tricks one too many times. I do like the themes of the future being able to affect the past, since it feels analogous to the sort of tech hellscape we’ve entered, where not only is our behavioural surplus the product, but predicting our behaviour is now the key, because that information is the data that can be sold to advertisers who can key in on exactly when you’re most vulnerable to seeing a certain ad and thus buying a certain product. “The aim of this undertaking is not to impose behavioral norms, such as conformity or obedience, but rather to produce behavior that reliably, definitively, and certainly leads to desired commercial results.” What does this have to do with Tenet? Nothing specifically, but the use of the title thing(?) within the film tapped into that feeling of the power of knowing exactly what will happen and using that information for profit.
So, I don’t know. It’s good, maybe even great. This is one of those movies that needs a second viewing, although I can’t tell whether watching it a second time will reveal more of the intricacies and complexities of the narrative, or whether I’ll be able to pick it apart more. Certainly worth seeing on the big screen almost for the sole reason that this kind of big-budget original film is getting rarer and rarer. But it also kind of feels like one that’s going to sit towards the bottom of Nolan’s oeuvre.