Tenet is Hard to Love.
You should still go see it, this film was my first ever drive-in theater experience and we had a great time. It is easy to enjoy Pattinson’s performance as Neil as he brings levity and character depth to a film that desperately needed it. You can also look forward to watching Christopher Nolan try to frame the shots in ways to disguise the fact that Washington is 7 inches shorter than Debicki. But get ready for a plot that is as incomprehensible as the audio. The idea of Nolan making his own version of spy genre film sounds good, but he decided to keep some of the most stale elements of the genre. Rewatching Tenet might help audiences increasingly enjoy some of the complexities of the filmmaking, but the unimaginative characters will stay bad.
This criticism doesn’t come naturally to me, I am a Nolan fan. Dunkirk was possibly my favorite film of a stacked 2017, I defended the merits of his films like Interstellar, Inception, Dark Knight, and Batman Begins, and I love the Prestige and Momento. While there are glimors of the Nolan filmmaking that is thrilling and thought provoking in Tenet, the end result unfortunately falls well short of the films listed above.
Similar to some of his best films, Nolan begins the film by throwing us into a beautiful and exciting action set piece. The scene reassures the audience that we are in good hands. Unfortunately the good feelings would not last, and Nolan’s themes of past mistakes and the disregard for climate change concerns were underdeveloped and failed to rise above the film’s deficiencies.
This is the same writer that brought us some of the most nuanced and intriguing characters in cinema, why is only one of the four main characters interesting? In Tenet we get Sator who’s character can be summed up in two words: greedy and evil. His wife Kat isn’t much better as the innocent wife of the evil guy who is ready to finally stand up to him. If you’ve seen some films before, then you know that the protagonist will use her at first, but then develop feelings for her, and risk THE ENTIRE WORLD to come to her rescue. The plot’s character dynamics were executed much better in the 1946 film Notorious (also known as the original screenplay for Mission: Impossible II).
While the action scenes were impressive, most of them were unnecessary or not taking full advantage of the world that Nolan created, with one exception: the airport turnstile. The heist setup was great, but the moment they walk up to the turnstile and you see the bullet holes, the anticipation builds as you realize those bullets haven’t been fired yet. It is impressive and unique fight choreography. But when we revisit the scene later in the movie it enhances our understanding of everything that occured the first time around. Fantastic filmmaking. The inverted film score was also a nice touch.
While the climax combat scene was a technically impressive feat, it was mostly superfluous action. However, the conclusion did construct an impressively poignant moment as we find out about Neil’s sacrifice and we learn his deep history with the protagonist in the past…future? Providing an amazing end to a great character. While this reveal creates a strong ending, it isn’t enough to forgive the many shortfalls of the film.