The Triumphant Return of Cinema?
So here it is, the crucial support that theaters around the globe desperately need in the form of Christopher Nolan’s hotly anticipated brand new sci-fi action picture, Tenet. Is it worth all the hype through such a dark time in cinema history during the current pandemic? I’m here to say that… The movie is okay. Okay, but practically a million miles away from the great status the film should of exceeded with the masterclass director/writer at the helm of production. Admittedly ambitious, gorgeously made, yet a hollow shell focused on falling in love with its own overly intricate mass abundance of dialog.
The Protagonist (John David Washington)—no, seriously, that’s literally what he’s called in the movie—has been recruited into a secret organization to investigate a new way of tactical assassination which they refer to as Inversion; highly trained soldiers who travel through scenes seemingly in reverse as their actions are inverted from the world surrounding them. Upon… the Protagonist’s… investigation of the phenomena, he is led to a crazed Russian arms dealer (Kenneth Branagh) who refuses to let his wife and son go from his clutches. Now it’s up to… the Protagonist… to stop this terrible man’s evil deeds before he ends the world as we know it.
Talk, Talk, Talk, & Talk
I’m just going to skip straight to the reason why I feel as though Tenet fails, at least for myself personally. We get a lot, and I do mean A LOT, of dialog. Which is typical for pretty much any Christopher Nolan feature, as he’s proven time and time again that he is a very inspired writer of dialog who loves filling several scenes to the brim with rich conversations to delve into. Dialog that sparks interesting ideas, themes, and above all else is captivating to simply listen to. Here though, it’s constant and never feels as though I’m ever learning who these people are, but rather every character is simply a vessel to unload even more dialog.
There is no character development really, every actor here feels as though they are an excuse to showcase Nolan’s ridiculously convoluted dialog writing and no one will shut the f*ck up! I love Christopher Nolan, I think he’s a remarkable talent behind the camera and on the page, however Tenet was him basically making love with himself by writing endlessly to impress us when in actuality he’s overloading the ears with too much information for the sake of doing so. Don’t get me wrong, I can dig a solid and challenging film, but this was a pop quiz that contained answers instead of the questions; leaving me to wonder what the hell were even the questions to get these answers?! I suppose that is appropriate to the film, seeing how it plays on the ideas of ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ within our world’s frame of logic. Which there are certainly interesting ideas, ideas that I am intrigued to explore, but maybe with characters I care about rather than a cast of robots.
Because there’s just so much dialog cramming itself deep into my ear canals for the entire two and a half hours, I become completely exhausted. Exhausted because I feel as though I’m unable to catch up with the constant exposition overwhelming me all at once and refuses to stop. Resulting in me being absolutely lost as to how or why we get from point A to point F in the narrative. As though the film is under the impression that we’re already familiar with a lot of these characters that our… protagonist… is introduced to, as if we’re in a sequel to a first film that never existed. Yet I know nothing about anyone here and am at a loss for how or why we’ve reached the next person to speak with in the long line of speakers.
This is the element where the film truly shines for me because the action seen here is some of the most innovative and ambitious action sequences I’ve seen on the big screen in years! Playing with the concept of time and inverting character’s actions while having another react within a fight or experiencing a building being reassembled in reverse from an explosion only to see that very same building explode again in a completely different place is extremely cool to see. If there is anything I loved about the film and could follow just fine, it’s the thoroughly and creatively planned out action beats that radiate through the projector in the most glorious of ways.
John David Washington & Robert Pattinson
Robert Pattinson is honestly one of my favorite actors working today, disappearing into every single role given to him in so many varied genres and tones that it’s truly exciting to see what he’ll do next. No matter what the quality of the picture may be, although he seemingly picks his scripts well, I know that I will be treated to another A+ performance by Pattinson and Tenet is no exception. Personally, I find it a shame that the script was far more focused on using his character to spew mostly exposition rather than develop him as a three-dimensional person, Pattison still performs wonderfully to inject as much personality as he possibly can and is probably the heart of this whole film.
John David Washington is an actor that I’ve only recently been introduced to through his leading role in BlacKkKlansman, which I found him and the picture to be equally freaking awesome. So I was definitely looking forward to seeing him again, especially in a new Christopher Nolan sci-fi epic thriller and he still certainly shows he’s got the chops. Washington brings everything he can to the table, much like Pattinson, to try sparking some life to his otherwise empty character. A character that is so unsubtlely written that he is literally named ‘The Protagonist’ in the movie and referred to as such multiple times. Again, it’s not that his character is necessarily bad, it’s just that I never get a sense of who this guy even is other than “he’s the good guy” so I guess I have to root for him only because I like the actor playing him.
In my opinion, both these actors, as well as the rest of the cast for that matter deserve far more than to give shallow reasons to spew out fancy dialog. Effort should have been made in the script to give these actors some meat to chew on in the material, instead they’re working with scraps and bare bones. Admittedly, they work those bare bones off effortlessly, but I want to get to know these people and have a real reason to invest my two and a half hours into these characters rather than wish to God they’d quit their constant babbling me to death.
Elizabeth Debicki & Kenneth Branagh
Elizabeth Debicki is an actress that I’ve actually been intrigued by for the last seven years now; first of all, I won’t lie, I’m captivated by how ridiculously gorgeous she is. It’s unfair to have someone that stunning on the big screen because it’s like I’m watching a Goddess prance about yet I’ll never personally know. Son of a bitch… Okay, piggish drooling over the pretty actress is over. My other reason, there’s something to her eyes that she uses in her roles; an eternal sadness yet seductive mystery that lies beneath those beautiful oceanic blues. Sadly, the same problem persists for Debicki’s character like the rest of her co-stars which is there’s no depth in the writing and her character is actually slightly worse than the others in the sense that it is such a clichéd character we’ve seen several times before; the damsel in destress wife who’s trapped in a loveless marriage to an evil man who’s a criminal kingpin.
Who’s that evil bastard we speak of? Well, it’s Kenneth Branagh of course! In all seriousness, Branagh is probably the only actor who brings in such immense levels of intensity to his role that he easily stands out even with the material he’s working with lacking in dimensionality or originality. Branagh is so intimidating that he can make generic lines like, “If I can’t have you, no one can” into the most terrifying moments in the entire picture. Kenneth Branagh is an absolute legend and he brings incredible flavor to an undercooked script.
As the story is unveiled, despite the impressive action set pieces and the creative concept while also pushing passed the complicated dialog, it’s ultimately an underwhelming tale. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, but it recycles too much to be anything special. Especially in regards to the villain and his overall motives, which are stale to say the least. Never was I engrossed in the story though, mainly because the dialog took precedence over giving us anything unique in our… protagonist’s… journey. Truthfully, there’s not much I feel that I can say about the story because it was maybe 15 minutes’ worth of story, 20 minutes’ worth of action, and an hour and a half worth of exposition.
Visually speaking, the film is stunning. Cinematography and locations are breathtaking, Nolan knows how to let his environments breathe life in the camera while shooting action flawlessly. Every special effect, practical or digitally crafted blends seamlessly into every shot. If I were to grade this movie strictly on style alone, this would easily be the best of the year. Honestly a major reason why I was riveted by the action so much was due to the creative visuals and masterful camera work.
Tenet delivers in some ways, but not enough. The action, style, and acting are all top notch. Yet because the script was more focused on expositing about its world and ideas rather than developing them, it feels like a two and a half hour slog. My brain becomes overloaded by the continuous information dumps so I can’t enjoy the interesting concepts being presented. I want to love this movie, and there are definitely parts of it that I do like, I can’t say that this is the hero we need right now… I know, I’m probably not the only person to make a Dark Knight reference in their review for any Nolan flick, but it fits so it sits! Anyways, maybe upon another future viewing I might enjoy this film more or possibly if there’s an extended cut to supply me the much needed character depth I need then maybe this would settle better with me. As I stand with it right now, it’s okay. Some good, some lackluster, overall it’s worth a viewing at home for cheap.
Favorite Nolan Film
That’s All Folks!
Tenet… What did you think? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Wonder why there wasn’t a DeLorean somewhere in there? Me too. Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves an inverted bad day! That means, good… Have a good day.
© 2020 John Plocar