Michael’s review published on Letterboxd:
Tenet was one of my most anticipated films of 2020. It had a cast with the likes of John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh, the trailers looked incredible, but most of all, it was Christopher Nolan’s next film. Nolan is one of my favourite directors, an incredibly creative and visionary filmmaker, all of his movies are good, and almost all of them are at least great. However there was another layer of anticipation, with this being the first movie to be released in cinemas since March ever since the pandemic started, this was actually the first time I’ve watch a movie in theatres since February. Tenet was the movie meant to bring people back to the theatre. It lived up to all the hype and was quite an incredible experience, it’s for sure one of my favourite films from Christopher Nolan, and that’s saying a lot.
For those worrying about spoilers, don’t worry, I won’t give anything critical away. At most I’ll refer to what was only in the trailers, which already do a good job at keeping a lot of the plot hidden. Tenet is probably Christopher Nolan’s most complex movie, and that is saying a lot. There’s a line from Clemence Poesy’s character to John David Washington’s character, “Don’t try to understand it, feel it”, and that idea is pretty much key to watching this movie. If you get too caught up with what you don’t understand, you won’t enjoy much of the rest of the movie, and will probably have a harder time getting what’s going on. The script by Christopher Nolan is fantastic, there’s a lot happening and really keeps you engaged from beginning to end, never letting go of your attention.
At its core, Tenet is a spy and espionage movie that happens to have a science fiction element, kind of like how Inception is a heist movie. Time has played a big part in many of Nolan’s movies, with the events in Memento being played backwards, Dunkirk taking place at different time settings and over different frames of time, and even Inception and Interstellar had time playing a big role in their plots. However time is the central theme and focus of Tenet. It’s not a spoiler to say that this movie is not about time travel but rather time inversion, and for the most part I actually got on board with that concept. At first it’s a bit hard to understand it, especially earlier on where you only get a little bit of time inversion in the plot. However as the plot progresses and more is shown and revealed, you begin to understand it more, and I thought it was well handled, especially when it came to the use of exposition. There’s a specific moment layer on where there’s a lot of time inversion and I have to say I was confused as to what was going on, but again I just went with it. It’s definitely a movie that’ll probably improve on repeat viewings. I will admit that I did need to look up some ‘Tenet explained’ articles to get a grasp of some of the things that I missed as I understand more of what’s happening. However I actually understood much more of the movie than I thought I would. One criticism I have for the movie from this first viewing is that it was hard to even hear what was happening, which I’ll get into later on, but those if anything were the things that made it occasionally hard to follow what was going on. Tenet is definitely not one of Nolan’s character driven movie, despite a big cast you only learn about a few of the characters. That wasn’t a dealbreaker for me though, I was still along with the ride. Looking back at it on a whole, the more I think about the movie, the more I love it.
There’s a great cast all around, and all of them perform really well. John David Washington plays the protagonist of the movie, who’s only referred to as ‘The Protagonist’, and he’s really great. Despite not much being known about his character, he brings such an on screen presence on his part and he carries much of the movie. Robert Pattinson was also good as an agent who works with The Protagonist, and Pattinson was particularly great alongside Washington, their on screen dynamic was very entertaining to watch. Elizabeth Debicki also gives a great performance as probably the most layered character of the movie, she’s the emotional core of the story. Kenneth Branagh plays the villain of the movie, it’s a scene chewing yet menacing performance, that really works for the movie. The rest of the supporting cast with the likes of Dimple Kapadia, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Himesh Patel, Michael Caine, and Clemence Poesy all play their parts well too.
Christopher Nolan directs this magnificently as to be expected. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is nothing short of fantastic, it’s such a large scale movie. Nolan’s filming of action has been generally criticised (especially in the Dark Knight trilogy). I still liked them, but I can kind of see why, especially when it comes to the stunts. However, I’d say that this is by far the best action that he’s filmed (possibly even more so than Inception). The most impressive aspect of the film on a purely technical and visual level was the time inversion, with everything going in reverse, and it is much more than just reversing the film. Like every other movie he has made, his movies are filmed practically, which made so many of the sequences even more impressive. One of such moments as teased in the trailers was when a real plane was crashed, and while that certainly is a big moment, there’s far more to come which I won’t reveal. There’s so many moments that I just wondered how Nolan pulled off. The time inversion was especially impressive, and the cinematography mixed with the practical effects and stunts come together to form some unforgettable moments. This is the first time since The Dark Knight that Hans Zimmer doesn’t score a Christopher Nolan movie, instead it is Ludwig Goransson composing, and he does a fantastic job. It’s extraordinary and fits perfectly with the movie. This brings me to the sound mixing, it is a very loud movie and it can be a bit overwhelming, but it only bothers me in one particular way. As previously mentioned, I don’t have an issue with the amount of exposition in the film, it’s just that the music and a lot of the other sounds can drown out a lot of the dialogue during these moments and because of that you are sometimes left in the dark about what’s going on (and sometimes it’s simple plot points). Let’s just say that if you watched it with subtitles, you would probably understand a lot more about what is going on.
With Tenet, Christopher Nolan has made another fresh, engaging, complex and spectacle of a film. The cast are great, I loved the plot and ideas presented, and the filmmaking is just on a whole other level. I can only see this improving upon further viewings. It’s an overwhelming and fantastic experience that is best seen in the cinema. At the same time, it’s only worth seeing this in cinemas if you feel safe and comfortable doing so right now in this moment, so if that is the case and the movie is in your area, I highly recommend seeing it.