Tenet

Tenet ★★★

As a gunmetal black Lexus LFA Nurburgring is wrenched apart in an exploding corkscrew trajectory behind me, I scramble desperately in slow motion through an oblivious crowd of marching automatons in grey suits. As Hans Zimmer’s 157 overdubbed tracks of horn synthesizers playing one all-encompassing note drown out all sound around us with a deafening din from the gates of oblivion, you can see me mouth the words before trampled underfoot: “I think Inception, while technically impressive, is one of the most overrated films of the 21st century.”

What I just described to you is a metaphor for my experience watching Tenet. You should understand the metaphor part intuitively, and as for the thing that I said about Christ Nolan’s mInDbeNdInG 2010 sci-fi-cgi espionage blasterpiece, you’re supposed to take that literally. If you don’t get the metaphor, you must not be very smart because it’s quite obvious that the car exploding is the movie, and the automatons marching towards it are the majority of people who appreciate Tenet. And I am a metaphor for me, the protagonist and stand-in for myself in my story. What’s that? Both the metaphor and illustration suffer because of assumptions I’ve made about the audience of the film, and it is contrived to bring such a convoluted mechanism to my movie review if it goes against my own internal logic? Oh, and it isn’t that well constructed in the first place you say? Well, you get what I mean. Just feel your way through this review and accept it as the highest form of the medium.

Anyway, I'm not going to say Nolan is a hack or that Tenet is a bad film. It's really cool to look at, but I feel empathy for anyone who thinks this is a "puzzle box" film as, just like every other Nolan film that has any question about the novel mechanism behind it, the actors stop mid-scene and explain everything that is going on. If you have any semblance of an attention span, you'll catch references to past events and notice the blatant foreshadowing quite easily. The acting isn't totally wooden, but it seems like most everyone is preoccupied with remembering which timeline their characters are on to the point where, 9 times out of 10, whatever cut selected for the scene optimizes the lifelessness of this talented cast. Luckily, unlike Inception, there are entire sentences that contribute towards some of their characterizations, so bravo Nolan for remembering that your plot purveyors are still humans that have thoughts and emotions that could possibly resonate with an audience.

I have been amazed that anyone thinks John David Washington's performance here is good outside of the athletic feats he has to pull off. I didn't think he was bad in BlacKkKlansman, but he really didn't sell all of the hype I heard about him as making a nice Bond stand-in. Perhaps he is better than later era Pierce Brosnan I will concede. The real standout was Kenneth Branagh who makes a much better evil Russian time-lord than he does a duplicitous, self-aggrandizing Wizard instructor. And Elizabeth Debicki must be going for a lot of roles where she interacts with contemporary art since she can look at those museum displays from above, avoiding the ceiling light glare so many of us 6-footers and under have to deal with. I only mention it because she's tall.

As for the "experimental" nature of the film, I will grant that the decibel threshold for the film borders on obnoxious (same with Dunkirk which required I wear earplugs at the IMAX), and seeing film in reverse is atypical. Between this and Twin Peaks, I don't think Nolan can hold a reverse-lit flashlight to Lynch in terms of experimental cinema, but you gotta start your marketing buzz-words somewhere. You just have to give the guy points for style as Tenet is sleek to say the least. There's the CIA, a plane crash with no survivors, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a big guy. Just as I can appreciate Ant Man for seeing small things get big and vice versa, I can appreciate Tenet for showing sequences forwardly AND in reverse. All of that being said, there are worse ways to endanger yourself in public right now.

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