Before seeing “Tenet," I would say that anyone who is going into a Christopher Nolan movie knows what to get. His films include trippy indescribable time travel, chaotic and exciting action sequences and a finale no one expects. After a drive to South Carolina (since North Carolina theaters are still closed as of writing) for an early showing, I can safely say I had no clue what I was in for. The story follows John David Washington (“BlacKkKlansman”) simply known as “The Protagonist” as he enters a world of spies and espionage. This leads him to a cohort in Neil, played by Robert Pattinson (“The Batman”) and a collision course with a Russian arms dealer played by Kenneth Branagh (“Murder on The Orient Express”). Along with his wife played by Elizabeth Debicki (“The Great Gatsby”). While some may consider that to be delving into a lot of information, please know that doesn’t skim the surface of this film's plot.
The cast here is serviceable and Washington delivers with an action star charm we don’t typically see in a Nolan film. With that being said, the real star here is Nolan and how he uses his camera to create something wholly original. Throughout the film, there’s a variety of tricks Nolan and Director of Photography (DP) Hoyte van Hoytama pull on an audience. Particularly in the James Bond style action sequences, they hold the camera allowing the audience to see everything that happens. According to a comment by editor Jennifer Lame, the film has less than 300 visual effects shot. This shows just how Nolan wants to deliver fans a more practical and theatrical experience. We get plenty of beautiful locations, with plenty of fast boats and cars, which allows an audience to become enveloped in this world.
The “wow” factor in every sense of the word is on display for the two hour and 34 minute runtime and the characters aren’t fleshed out as some may expect. Washington’s “The Protagonist” delivers on the action, but we don’t learn a single character trait about him. We simply know his name and his mission to save the world and stop the bad guy. In the case of Pattinson, he certainly eases into the charm and moves through his role with ease. Branagh as the villain is entertaining, but sometimes overplays his hand. One of my biggest issues with the film would have to be in Nolan’s portrayal of female characters which vary from Debicki being a simple damsel in distress and supporting performers being exposition dumps. Performance wise though, I feel I can’t really judge them clearly until I see the film again due to the audio mix.
Audio Mixing is essentially the blending of dialogue, music and score over the course of the film. In the history of Nolan’s filmography, this is an issue that he’s run into throughout all of his films. Here in several instances, the score overtakes conversations between actors to the point of being unintelligible. For myself personally, I found it to be incredibly frustrating because the plot is rather dense. Nolan is a filmmaker that wants an audience to work while watching a movie. Sometimes that can be rewarding and I would argue for the most part that it is here, it just won’t be for everyone.
“Tenet” is the type of film that definitely wants to divide audiences in terms of how you’re expected to feel when the credits role. Some may understand its layers of mystery, while others (like me) were stunned technically, but didn’t understand the rules of this world. There is no denying the fact that Nolan set out and delivered on making what he wanted to make. It’s got more than fun actions sequences, but a world that feels lived in and real. Tonally, it bridges a gap between something like “Skyfall” and “Blade Runner” which is morphed into something wholly original. Though I may not have understood its details and layers, it’s certainly an experience that will stir up a conversation long after the credits roll.