Tenet ★★★½

After 220 days and 135 films, I finally got to go to a theater to watch a movie. I’m very glad that this was Tenet, the largest and loudest movie I could’ve hoped for in my return. It’s been 7 painful months, but I’m ecstatic to have finally gotten the chance to see a film on the big screen. 

As for the film itself, Tenet combines the mind-numbing science fiction of Inception with the high-octane spy thrills of Mission Impossible. 

The performances are solid, if unspectacular. John David Washington is a great physical embodiment of The Protagonist but is a bit stiff with the suave, super spy aspect. Debicki and Branagh are both more than serviceable in their roles, with Branagh especially bringing a visceral anger in numerous extreme close-ups. Pattinson is stellar with what he’s given, but unfortunately this doesn’t equate to much outside of physicality. 

From a writing perspective, I’m still a tad bit mixed about where I stand with this. On the one hand, the amount exposition is ridiculous, Nolan breaks one of the most principal cinematic rules, “show, don’t tell” at a preposterously high rate. On the other hand however, he does this in every single one of his movies, so who am I to sit here and tell him what he’s doing is wrong when it’s worked so well for him for so long? My head hurts from being directly talked at for so long, but at the same time I’d be a rich man if I were able to write a film this mind-numbingly complex without taking an explanatory approach. 

Formally, the film is on par with the best films of the past few years. For as much as I complain about Nolan’s dialogue and the editing style he frequents in most of his films (which I won’t do here) he has risen to the level of Kubrick in terms of mastery of practical effects. What he’s able to achieve visually, with compliments of Hoyte Van Hoytema’s heavenly eye for composition and spectacle, is nothing short of incredible. The sound design, however, is a bit too abrasive for its own good. The maximalism Nolan constantly strives for is just a little too much in this instance, as significant dialogue is slightly drowned out while the intensity of sound at war with itself constantly zaps the viewer out into reality. 

Nolan clearly shoots for the moon here, just as he has for the past twenty years. He has established himself as one of the premier directors of the 21st century, and shows no signs on slowing down with the awe-inspiring headache of a film. One can only hope this pandemic isn’t the end for impossibly big movies being played on the biggest screen possible.

Grade: B+

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