Tao A’s review published on Letterboxd:
From the writer that brought you "so you came back to die with your city", "no I came back to stop you" comes, an even worse screenplay, somehow. This is by FAR Nolan’s messiest, and most inaccessible. I’m seeing some debate here on whether or not a movie that requires a second, or third, or fourth, or 140th if you’re doing the Captain Marvel workout routine, viewing just to "understand" (so to speak) the basic plot like Tenet should be considered a failure in storytelling. And while I don’t think it should be, 'cause for me rewatchability - and that extends to the storytelling as well - is crucial or otherwise you’d end up with a marvel movie; I do have to say that the actual execution here is just leaving so much to be desired.
The first hour went fucking turbo on the exposition and while I understand that information dumps is kind of a necessary evil to get something THIS ambitious across, the fact still remains that two people walking at leisurely pace while delivering exposition or three people standing in triangular position discussing the next major plot point while the camera slowly circles around aren’t exactly what constitutes "good filmmaking." But I mean what are you gonna do? And to really add salt to injury the second half is so fast paced and hard to keep up with why and most importantly when things are happening that you just give up and all that time spent on exposition are wasted anyway. And I watched this in fucking China where every movie has subtitles so, you know, hats off to the troopers who saw this in theaters with no subtitles and still somehow managed to piece together the lore here over that trademarked Nolan sound mixing where you can’t hear jack shit of what the characters are saying over the deafening sounds of birds chirping and whatnot.
The "crashing this plane" scene is overhyped because literally every shot of the actual plane crashing is already in the trailer. It was like a 3-second sequence where the nose of the plane gently taps on what looks like a temporary structure made out of memory foam and sparkles.
The third act which I won’t spoil is a MASSIVE missed opportunity to show us something truly awe inspiring thanks to Nolan’s insistence on shooting everything in camera, which I respect, but it’s rather obvious that he couldn’t quite realize his ambitions due to technical and really, physical limitations. Aside from brief glimpses of what could’ve been, like that shot of the building exploding which I’ll be honest I’ve no fucking idea how they accomplished that shot, or the few shots of people running through inverted explosions; the rest is no different than something you’d find in the third act of a pentagon-backed Morocco-doubling-as-unnamed-Middle-East-country-shot military action movie but with a few added extras running backwards awkwardly in the distant background. It’s like Nolan was still stuck in the Dunkirk mindset and went "well I’m gonna shoot this climactic battle in a way that you don’t see the enemy forces at all" and it just feels weirdly anticlimactic. I say weirdly because I would much rather they settled for something smaller scale like the opening scene instead of the fucking Black Hawk Down siege that they went for here.
And speaking of smaller scale, as a bit of a sommelier when it comes to martial arts action movies I gotta say, Nolan is getting really good at shooting these small scale fight scenes, which has always been his Achilles heel. Batman Begins had these garbage fight scenes plagued with overcutting, then he learned from past mistakes and course corrected too hard and went too far the opposite direction, with The Dark Knight Rises having these really bland and lifeless fights that looks like two hairless chimps throwing hands from a scene in a nature documentary. Here in Tenet he really struck the perfect balance between the two and that scene of two dudes fighting except one with every move inverted? Chef kiss.
Another thing Nolan really dropped the ball here though is the characters. Probably the weakest collection of characters he’s ever come up with and the only one you’re gonna remember in a week is Kenneth Branagh, who plays the most despicable and evil character probably in Nolan’s entire filmography and that’s taking fucking Joker into account. But judging by presence alone the protagonist here isn’t him, or the protagonist - The Protagonist, but Ludwig Goransson. The score is.... loud. Some people are saying he’s the best composer since Johann Johannsson and to those people I say you’ve lost your fucking mind. It’s an adequate score; good, even. But it sounded like a remix of every Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL score ever created without a shred of its own personality. It complements the film really well but I can easily imagine this film with a completely different score. Say what you will about Hans Zimmer, I can’t imagine Dunkirk without that Hans Zimmer score.
I think ultimately I would describe this movie as overly ambitious. Nolan had all these crazy ideas in his head that as a director he couldn’t quite translate on screen. I doubt anyone could honestly. But either way I’m super glad he convinced Warner Bros to bankroll his crazy ideas and just went for it. There hasn’t been a Nolan movie that I LOVED but I will always support him because there is simply no one else doing what he does on the level that he does it.
And I have to get this one last thing out of my system. There’s a growing movement among the vulgar auteurism community, or "intellectuals" - for short, to label any and every movie as a Michael Mann movie, most specifically Miami Vice or Blackhat. Resident Evil Retribution is Paul W. S. Anderson’s BLACKHAT. Glass is Shyamalan’s MIAMI VICE. Revenge of the Sith is Lucas’ BLACKHAT. Blackhat is Mann’s MIAMI VICE. And of course your latest film twitter hot take: Tenet is Nolan’s BLACKHAT. Fucking nonsense garbage like that. Not sure what the purpose of this conspiracy theory is but sure I’ll play your game. Least you could do is get your vulgar auteurs right: Tenet is Nolan’s DEJA VU. See? Much better. At least they share some similarities, AND a Washington.
Thank you for reading my presidential campaign speech.