Tom’s review published on Letterboxd:
Tenet is bold, original, technically impressive, and clever; it's also kind of a mess. I'm a huge Christopher Nolan fan and love everything I'd seen from him before this, so it was disappointing to see that the film played out the same way for me as it has for many others. I bought it on 4K Blu-ray in the hopes that it would subvert my increasingly lowering expectations, and it just about met them. I don't feel negatively about the film as a whole; it's decent, but it can seem worse than it actually is when compared to his other films.
Let's get into the positives: first off the spectacle of course. The action, the visual effects, and the score were all extremely well put together. That's to be expected with Christopher Nolan at the helm. He continues his exploration of time in a way I've never quite seen before, resulting in something mind bending, fun and simultaneously confusing, but more on that shortly. With Hans Zimmer not returning, I was slightly worried, but the score was great (still not Zimmer quality though), and always feels appropriate for the story and concept. The amount they were able to achieve on a visual level with mostly practical effects and shots was stunning to see, and as usual was seamless. One of the biggest praises you have to give Nolan is that his films are going to remain timeless. The majority of blockbusters nowadays will unfortunately age terribly with the over abundance on CGI, so it's admirable that Nolan insists on being consistent at creating films in the way he intends.
As for negatives, there are plenty, but keep in mind I still think the film is fine; it's just important to elaborate on why I found it disappointing. The most obvious issue is the characters, who are seriously lacking and frankly boring. If there's one thing that really annoys me, its when a film can't decide what it wants to be, because to me at least, it seems Tenet has a bit of an identity crisis. Does it want to be a high concept, visual experience with a focus on action, tone, and entertainment? or does it want to strike an emotional cord and involve us in its characters?
Look at Dunkirk for example, it's very clear what its intentions are; that film chooses to avoid focusing on character to put the viewer in the situation, delivering an involving, immersive viewing experience. Or take Inception, which has an emotionally relatable central character and a human story that navigates you through the massive spectacle. Tenet tries to create some emotional attachment with Elizebeth Debicki's character in particular, but always feels like it's far more interested in the the spectacle. It seriously comes across that Nolan wants to capture the same magic he achieved with Inception, but fails to tie character and story together in a purposeful way; something I would argue he has managaed to do in every other film. Speaking of Debicki's character, she was poorly handled as well from a script perspective, which is a common complaint I 100% agree with. It doesn't fit into the tone of the film, and is out of place to put it lightly. All of the actors do a good job with what they are given, but the material is soulless and emotionally manipulative at times.
The disconnect I felt caused me to loose interest in the story, so rather than being blown away by it, I instead felt underwhelmed. It's such a shame as it's a puzzle begging to be solved, and usually that's exactly the kind of filmmaking I love. After a quick Google search and some Youtube videos of people discussing the film, I got everything I needed out of it, and I'm not all that bothered if I see it again. Usually I would look for other people's interpretations and readings of the film if it's one with an ambiguous narrative, as it's always great to see differing opinions and fun to be a part of the discussion, but with this I just wanted instant clarity so I could move on.
Like I said, I don’t mind the film. There are plenty of praise worthy elements and there’s a brilliant concept there, however it’s highly flawed and is far from what I would expect from Christopher Nolan.