“Tenet” is the latest film from Christopher Nolan as he continues his vendetta of blending high concepts with dazzling filmmaking to deliver intelligent blockbusters to a world where the power of cinema seems to be dwindling.
In other words, There’s a Heist to Steal a Thing, But Then There’s Three Other Heists to Steal Other Things, But You Don’t Know How That Connects To That or Why He is Doing What in That Scene Because He Was Already Him Over There an Hour Ago, Because of a Machine in a Room That Was Never Introduced, Then Kenneth Branagh Screams Expository Dialogue You Can’t Hear Over the Sound Mixing: a film by Christopher Nolan.
I wanted to start this review off by saying that I feel as if I give Christopher Nolan a hard time.
However, it’s only because I know he can do better due to films like “Insomnia” and “Inception.” He is now at the point in his career where nobody will object to what he’s doing and pretty much has free reign to do what he wants, hence why this film was released in a theater.
Over the years, his films have become less and less emotionally investing and “Tenet” is the zenith of that bearing.
Whenever I see and write about a film, how I felt while watching the film usually has a much greater impact on my final thoughts than the intricate wirework of the film itself.
That being said, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack while watching this film, because the level of disorientation and anxiety I felt was immeasurable to any other cinematic experience I’ve ever had.
It was to the point where I felt like I needed to leave the theater for medical reasons.
I also had a headache from the utterly overpowering “BWAAAAAAA” score, which Nolan and Hans Zimmer are infamous for making — or ruining classic film scores.
To say the least, I think I hated this film. Reading other reviews for this film, it was shocking how many people were defending Nolan’s black void of humanity in his characters to the point where he literally names his main character “The Protagonist.”
Here’s the absolute bottom line: film is made and broke over characters and story. If your story is confusing, then have interesting characters for the audience to stay attached to, like “Inception.” If you have no characters, make up for that with a solid and interesting story. “Tenet” has absolutely no memorable characters, and the story is possibly the most incoherent thing ever.
Every scene in “Tenet” feels like a non sequitur. The scene starts, and two people you don’t really know are in a random location talking in movie code about something you have no prior knowledge of. Then the scene ends, and a heist scene starts without establishing what that heist is or what their plan is, which leads to little to no stakes.
Here’s the other big problem: if this is a heist movie, then we need to know what is going on so that there are stakes.
Usually, in a heist film, the audience is familiar with the plan to the heist prior to so that when something goes wrong in the heist (something usually does), we feel concerned for the characters involved, because we know “that’s not how it’s supposed to go.” The “Mission Impossible” movies have mastered this art.
However, you have no idea what is ever happening in “Tenet” and you don’t care about the characters at all, which leads to such a huge disconnect from what’s in Nolan’s head and to what we’re seeing.
I believe that Nolan knows exactly what’s happening, but as a storyteller, he failed at efficiently adapting what was in his head to paper, then taking that script and telling a visual story with a coherent throughline.
So I just want to reiterate that for the entire runtime, I felt like I was having a mental breakdown because of how frustrated and anxious I was.
Once the film started, it felt there was no main objective or something that would tighten the series of events through one overarching plot. Things just sort of happened for the first hour, and Nolan leaves you in the dark for so long that you give up on the film before Nolan even begins to reveal answers to your questions.
I think Tarantino said this once, but you never want your audience completely and utterly confused or else they become frustrated and give up.
If I was lost, I can’t imagine how normal moviegoers felt after seeing this.
There is also no character to view this story from. It should be “The Protagonist,” but he hardly ever asks dire questions that the audience is begging to know. And these are not questions that can be revealed later, but rather questions that must be answered so that the audience can understand what’s happening for the next hour.
Nolan even understood this with “Inception.” Start the film with a tease of what the film is about, but when things get complicated, introduce an outside character who asks what the audience is also asking. “Tenet” does not have that character.
This just feels like a four-hour film that was cut down to two and a half hours, because every scene feels like its sprinting to the next just to get to overly loud action scenes with the “BWAAAA” score over it to give the illusion of “grandness.”
But it does feel like a usual heist film, with that utterly confusing “inverse” concept Nolan made up. It’s “Compensating: The Movie,” because there is such a lack of character that Nolan is trying to make up for that with a “grand” concept; it feels like he’s trying so hard.
It’s like a car that has chrome wheels, a cool hood ornament and a sweet paint job to make up for the fact that it doesn’t have a working engine.
I mentioned this a while ago with the western film “The Shooting,” but a film must work on the surface level first before you can dissect the subtextual gobbledygook and technical brilliance, especially when nobody in the movie has clear motivations you can get behind.
I really thought this film would come back around like “The Prestige,” but it doesn’t. It’s just a huge mess that Nolan ends with by saying, “Put the pieces together,” but the pieces are from eight different puzzles and the image, when you put the puzzle together, is a white square.