Austin Burke’s review published on Letterboxd:
YouTube review - Click HERE
2020 list - Click HERE
Tenet is bold, complex, ambitious, and it may be a bit much for many general audience-members. The idea behind creating a film this extensive is one that we often associate with the name of Chris Nolan. He has become that kind of filmmaker for many. He is one of my favorites, but even I can acknowledge that he may be occasionally trying a bit hard. The thing I love about his filmography is the fact that (for me) his movies get better with every watch. From Interstellar to Inception, every viewing opens up more doors and answers more questions. I just read a tweet saying how uncovering the meaning behind this film would not make it any better, or how the story lacks heart. I just refuse to get on board with that notion. I felt that the film had heart based on how gutsy Nolan was with this story. I mentioned earlier how this film is ambitious. That is definitely the case here, but you can see Nolan pouring out his time travel-loving heart and soul. He doesn’t quite nail the target, but he gets close enough to the mark with Tenet.
It is understandably divisive because it takes so long for your brain to catch onto what is happening. It will be different for everyone, but it kicked in for me around the halfway point. For some, it will not kick in at all, but I suddenly found myself fascinated with the progression. While they do not build these characters up (at all) in the beginning, we finally start to see progression in the second act. Keep in mind, the way time moves here is unlike any film before so character progression will not be familiar. Debicki’s character is our only “protagonist” that gives us a reason to care. It is separating itself from what we know from him, as we have previously had emotional connections with every main character associated with his films. John David Washington’s character has nothing at the start (other than some wild action-heavy moments). This bothered me, but I wanted to give it some time. After 20 minutes, I was ready to give up and give it a 6/10 or 7/10. Not connecting to your main character in some way is an issue.
We needed something to happen within the plot to allow us to understand what we were seeing. My moment came when we entered the red/blue room (that’s all I will say). This is when the film took the ultimate turn, and that’s important because the first act felt empty. From here, I was on cloud nine, as it all felt much more cohesive. The questions throughout the first act were beginning to get answered, and while I still need clarification on many elements, I felt confident that I understood most of it walking out. I also found what I was looking for with the tone. I didn’t expect it to be humorous. I expected it to be exactly what it was, and that could be why that didn’t bother me. I feel if this was a fresh filmmaker without the standards of “Christopher Nolan,” it would not be near as divisive. It would be praised for how “ambitious” it is. That being said, I have seen some well-written reviews describing issues in detail. It is understandable, as I have more issues here than most of Nolan’s other films.
The sound-design criticism makes sense, and there was one scene on the water that really bothered me, but I couldn’t find many issues elsewhere. The idea of not being able to hear them well in the masks is a creative choice, but it makes sense. When I worked for the Government, I wore similar masks, and it was hard to even hear myself talk. Again, it’s a valid criticism; it just isn’t something that bothered me all that much. The score itself is epic, and the theatrical experience that (hopefully) everyone will have at some point is amazing. I actually love a loud score, and Göransson nailed it. It is epic beyond belief, and subtlety playing it backwards during “those scenes” is a nice touch. There is plenty of subtle detail here that warrants another watch. It isn’t even fun to “score it” after one watch, but that is the YouTube game that I have to play. It will be interesting to see where it falls on another viewing, but I can say that Nolan attempted to give us something bold and new here. Whether it worked for you or not, at least it is original and different from anything else.
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🔜I’m Thinking of Ending Things