Tenet

Tenet ★★

The amount of divisiveness Nolan's latest film has garnered definitely made me prepared for this. From what few non-spoiler reviews I could get, it was apparent that many people see 'Tenet' as an accentuation of Nolan's best qualities and his worst flaws.
What I was unprepared for was how uneven that balance actually was. I did not expect great character drama or even "characters" per se in this film, just a thrill-ride with the usual jigsaw puzzle of a narrative he is usually obsessed with. In fact I expected to have fun if the movie completely embraced what Nolan really excels at abandons everything Nolan sucks at - a.k.a. compelling characters, thematic relevance, coherent plots and a naturally flowing narrative. In fact if Nolan amps up all his excesses then I could even see myself loving a film like that for what it would be - a meta-commentary on Nolan's filmmaking as well as the blockbuster-mania he has ushered in this decade.

Alas, 'Tenet' is none of that. Like half of Nolan films, Tenet is what you get when you take a fascinating, ambitious and interesting premise and surround it with the most inanely banal, dull, tired clichés. It has always been one of the reasons why Nolan is such an incredibly frustrating director to watch - he has a great knack for coming up with ingenius and endlessly fun ideas but he has almost none of the talent to imbibe that idea into a well-told narrative. This disaparity is the strongest in 'Tenet' and that is a real shame because I do find the conceit of the film fun - and even thematically relevant (though the theme is really just barely knitted in and only becomes apparent when dropped as an exposition-dump late in the third act). Washington's character is officially named "The Protagonist" - one of the reaosns why I really thought this could be an intentional attempt at a meta-commentary on the nature of blockbusters, even though it is not. 'Tenet' really does come off as a parody of Nolan's films and as a parody of the multiduous of mediocre blockbusters they keep churning out - and that could have been a fun thing. I love parodies. Even when unintended.
But 'Tenet' is so one-note and dull that it is difficult to have any fun with it. And as if to mirror that, the film's score and cinematography follow through on that as well. The cinematography is incredibly ugly and looks barely a few shades better than a Michael Bay movie. The filmscore has quite a few occasions of brilliance but. It. Never. Stops. It's a constant monotonous humdrum of Zimmer-styled repetitive beats and BWAAAAAAAAs because of course the movie itself never stops to take a breath, to reflect upon its ideas, to effectively utilise silence. The first act of the film is quite simply, atrocious and it almost made me give up the film. Thankfully it got better eventually, pacing-wise but never good enough to compel me. Pattinson's character simply keeps dropping in and out of the movie and as a result it barely affects you when a certain plotpoint that was bound to be touching in any other story is revealed. One of the biggest turn-offs for me however was Kenneth Brannagh. "one-dimensional Russian bad-guy" is one of the things that I hate most about American movies and Brannagh's character here is so embarrassing that I spent most of the time he was on-screen deciding whether to laugh or be mad. (this is not even to mention that the character being Russian has no impact on the story at all, so he could have been from *any* nationality but 🤷🏽‍♂️. The performance is overdone and to make it worse, not only is his "Russian" accent entirely unconvincing but Nolan also gives him the most eye-rolling, groan-inducing, cringe-fest lines of the film. I'm speaking Trump-level bad.

Customary note for the fanboys who would say "watch again. You didn't get it." : I got it. At least most it. But I also think if a person has to watch a blockbuster narrative film multiple times to "get it", then the fault lies with the film and not the viewer. I am sure the movie is intentionally confusing and disorienting (something Nolan has used to good effect in other films) but this was so bad because of the stock characters and even the worse dialogues. (".... Including my son?")


HOWEVER, after all that negativity, I did give the film 2-stars. And it is only for a few reasons. The effects are expectedly great to look at and as I have mentioned I really do like the central concept of the film around which its many action set-pieces are built on. (even though I think many of the stunts are shot terribly ala TDK and Batman Begins)
The best thing about the film - and it is something for which I am glad - is the casting and the way it subverts conventions. Washington's character is barely a character - but he makes the role better than the script, which is a good sign for any promising leading man. Currently, we barely have any action films with a black lead. Furthermore, the more well-established white actor here plays merely a side-kick.
The 6'3" tall Elizabeth Debicki challenges gender norms as well, as its incredibly rare for the typically male-targeted action-blockbusters to have a woman towering over every man in the film and making them look physically inferior.
But that Kenneth Brannagh performance almost makes me angry, sheeesh.

Time will tell if I'll give this another go to see if it gets better on a rewatch. I am curious about it. But for now, I need to stay the hell away from this.

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