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Movie Review: Tenet

'Tenet' is as awesome as it is frustrating

Directed by Christopher Nolan
In Theatres

I went to a movie theatre, the first time since March. It shouldn't be a big deal and in a normal world it wouldn't be. But this has been a year of murder hornets and fire tornados and square-dancing hurricanes. A year of death and mayhem and chaos and confusion and anger and sadness and global civil unrest and a pandemic the likes of which hasn't been seen in over a century. I checked the chain's policies and procedures and felt… I guess assured is the word. I selected a time which pretty much guaranteed minimal contact, bought my ticket online, grabbed a mask and headed out. Showed the theatre employee the ticket on my phone and was waved in, no scanning. The polices and procedures were explained, the exit was shown. Made my way in, found my seat, and sat down in a movie theatre for the first time since March. Welcome to the new normal.

Enough about living in a time of existential angst and dread. Let's hunker down and get talking about Tenet, shall we?

Tenet is the new film from Christopher Nolan and if anyone can jump start theatres, it just might be Christopher Nolan. It would be among his greatest achievements if it happens. Mr. Nolan has created films that are more spectacular, more visually arresting than nearly anyone working today. Dunkirk brought in over half a billion dollars and it's an historical drama. Inception doesn't make a bit of sense but that doesn't matter when you're watching it. Memento is probably the most entertaining movie that could really use a flow chart to accompany it. So, yeah. Creators and suits and fans are waiting for the global release of Tenet to determine what will happen to the movies that have been in a holding pattern since spring. And, again, if Tenet is the jump start the theatres need, it will be an amazing achievement for Mr. Nolan.

Tenet is a heck of an achievement and is spectacular to watch. Technologically there is nothing like it. Tenet is completely original and unique and is a spectacular achievement. Created using mostly practical effects, with very little CGI, actors moving and speaking forwards and backwards. It looks amazing and hits all the senses like only a film by Mr. Nolan can. And it moves. From the first frame to the last, it never lets up. The action scenes are all top shelf. Tenet is also Mr. Nolan's most overtly Bond film. It may not have any moments that are directly cribbed from the Bond franchise, like the mountaintop sequence in Inception, but it does have moments and action sequences and relationships that would feel at home in any modern Bond film.

The performances are, for the most part, great. John David Washington is a charismatic lead and is most definitely continuing to step outside of his father's giant shadow. Robert Pattinson is having all of the fun. Kenneth Branagh is chewing all of the scenery. There are some great character actor moments from Himesh Patel.

And, again, if this jump starts theatres globally, if the theatres can offer the public a safe place to watch this spectacle, it will be a great acheivement for Mr. Nolan.

Unfortunately, Tenet is not among Mr. Nolan's strongest work. Not at all. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not taking back anything I've said above. But Tenet has flaws. It is still a fast paced roller coaster ride of a film. But the sound mix is, well, the word is atrocious. Most of the dialogue is buried in the mix and large chunks of it is indecipherable. Various masks and accents and explosions and cross-talk doesn't help. And for a film with this much exposition, even more than Inception, none of it makes a bit of sense. Even when it is clear, when it rises above the mix, it doesn't make any sense at all. Like, I could spoil everything from Tenet, write out every twist and turn and plot and subplot and everything, and it would make very little sense, if any, to anyone. This has to be the most spoiler proof movie in years.

I've never agreed with the opinion that Mr. Nolan's films are cold, emotionless technical exercises. Until Tenet. Yes, it is spectacular to look at and there is literally nothing like it, but, as the credits roll, you're kind of stuck with the feeling that maybe the story and relationships in Tenet aren't what's important. That what's important is getting actors to learn how to move and talk backwards.