Jacob Cunningham’s review published on Letterboxd:
Let me just preface this review with the fact that I am a huge Nolan fan. I love his brainy blockbusters and I think he's been on such a roll as of late, with more emotional films than he is given credit for.
It breaks my heart to say that Tenet is the first film of his that I did not like.
Tenet features Nolan's signature time fuckery gone rogue. At a base level, the plot revolves around this anti-terrorism group of sorts on a mission to save the world. You are thrown straight into the deep end so I won't elaborate much further than that.
I've always defended against criticisms that Nolan's films favour plot over character, but I have to say that's my major issue with Tenet. This film beats you to death with story and exposition without ever getting to the heart of
A - the characters
B - the central concept.
John David Washington's protagonist (hilariously named 'The Protagonist') is a literal blank slate. We don't know who he is, where he came from, what he stands for or why he's fighting this fight. He's just a guy who is strong and brave and dedicated to the mission. That's literally it. Robert Pattinson's sidekick is a little more interesting but that's mostly due to his charismatic performance.
Elizabeth Debicki is probably given the most depth, and probably would've made a way more compelling protagonist than The Protagonist (I laughed out loud every time they said his name).
A huge portion of this movie is just dedicated to the characters explaining the plot in such a monotone fashion. Nolan obviously doesn't see them as human beings, only vessels to move the plot forward. This makes the convoluted plot extremely difficult to latch onto. Not to mention outside of the time fuckery it's an extremely generic plot about Russian bad guys and nuclear maguffins and things of that nature. The time fuckery doesn't even kick in proper until pretty late in the game.
This movie also spends a lot of time explaining the wrong things. They dedicate so much time to the plot that they never really delve into the actually interesting time mechanics at hand. They brush it off with lines like "don't even try to understand this" and just expect you to roll with it. It's like Nolan just wanted to do a bunch of visual tricks rather than tell a story. The time fuckery this time around truly feels like a gimmick, rather than something ingrained into the story and characters on a symbolic level.
The script is really weak and a lot of the dialogue was unintentionally funny (someone literally says "if I can't have you, no one can" and it's the most on the nose bullshit I've ever seen). The middle third of this was a real struggle to stay awake. I can roll with your convoluted plot if the characters going through it are interesting but these ones just aren't. That's not to say I didn't understand the plot though, I feel like I did, I just found it to be dull and nonsensical.
I really enjoyed the first 40 minutes or so before it started to lose me, and it got more interesting toward the end. The final 10 minutes actually heads in a direction of emotional pathos that would've been really helpful earlier on. By then it was too late.
Obviously it's incredible on a visual level, but I wasn't a fan of the score and sound design. It's so irritating and BWAAHHH heavy that it was just numbing instead of hard-hitting. A lot of the dialogue is also drowned out which made it impossible to understand what people were saying at times.
I can't fault the actors, Pattinson and Debicki were standouts and probably my favourite thing about the film.
Actually I can fault Branagh, not sure what he was doing.
I may see it again to see if I get anything more out of it, but sadly I was unbelievably let down by Tenet. 2020 truly is the darkest timeline.