PG Score: 8/10
Tenet is easily one of the most complex movies ever made. Its foreign concepts are as strikingly impressive as they are frustratingly mind-boggling. Writer/director Christopher Nolan (Inception and Interstellar) has always excelled at exploring incredibly intricate topics in his films that often raise a host of questions. He never spoon-feeds his audience the answers to those queries and his latest project is no exception.
The plot, in its most basic form, follows a CIA operative knows as “The Protagonist” (John David Washington) as he navigates a world of international espionage in a fight to save mankind. To dig any deeper into the many nuances of the storyline would risk spoiling something that truly needs to be seen to be understood. Even then, complete comprehension is a luxury very few will be granted upon seeing it for the first time. This is a puzzle that challenges the viewer to shine a light on every crevice of their brain. There is something to be said for a film that commands the engagement of its audience throughout and encourages them to dig deep for the solution.
All cast members nicely fill their respective roles, with protagonist John David Washington strapping in as an even-keeled government agent. Despite the grave stakes, the tactical character is not one who displays an overhaul of emotion and Washington delivers his lines in an appropriately methodical manner.
His counterpart, Neil, is played by Robert Pattinson who continues to compile a bevy of impressive performances on his resume. He shows more range in this role and continues to prove how versatile of a talent he is.
Elizabeth Debicki does an admirable job of portraying the elegant Kat. She makes good use of her screen time and conveys the proper depth to a more layered character than we are used to seeing from her.
The real standout here is Kenneth Branagh as villainous Russian megalomaniac Andrei Sator. He steals almost every scene he is in and his fiery performance makes his compelling character that much more intriguing.
Tenet hits the ground running at a breakneck pace. The opening set piece is a doozy and sets the table nicely for what can be expected from both a technical and storyline standpoint. This is a loud, booming, behemoth of a blockbuster. It contains enthralling spectacles while also tackling confusing subjects that deal with time and physics. These aspects are woven into the action sequences in a way that is a bit jarring at first. However, it soon becomes evident how much of a cinematic marvel this visual feast really is.
The magic of the technical achievements and thrilling action scenes manifests mainly in the car chases and melee combat. Despite being the most frequent form of fighting, the gunplay is not the main draw. It’s still quite serviceable but it is relatively standard fare compared to the pulse-pounding vehicular mayhem and weighty hand-to-hand combat. Both are incorporated nicely into the large-scale set pieces, which are plentiful and delightfully dazzling.
The brisk pacing is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows Tenet to move through its 150-minute runtime virtually unencumbered. On the other, everything moves so quickly that the complex topics are not given the appropriate time to be explained. This does not feel like a two-and-a-half-hour movie and would likely have benefited from being closer to three. The lightning speed at which these elaborate plot points are discussed intersects with the film’s most glaring negative by far: the audio.
A large portion of the conversations are utterly incoherent. Characters are often mumbling behind masks or drowned out entirely by explosions or the thunderous score. In a theater, without subtitles or the ability to pause or rewind, this painful drawback is absolutely devastating. For a film that is so firmly rooted in the need to comprehend, the repeatedly inaudible dialogue is frankly inexcusable.
Tenet screams for multiple viewings but also demands mental marinating in between. There is so much to unpack that the task of wrapping your head around the mind-bending themes the movie presents seems daunting, and it is. For anyone who really wants to understand what is going on, it’s absolutely vital to dedicate the proper time to read about the various theories and explanations. A commitment to a thorough deep dive on the web afterward should be required along with the price of admission.
Christopher Nolan has proven time and time again that he is one of the smartest and boldest filmmakers ever. His desire to consistently venture into the unknown and pursue an array of cerebral concepts sets him apart from other directors. Audio missteps and pacing problems aside, Tenet is another accomplishment on his impeccable body of work and a worthwhile reason to revisit the theater.