I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but sometimes when I’m watching a film in a movie theater, there are moments where I wish I could get out a remote control, pause and rewind the film, and replay a scene either because I couldn’t quite follow what was going on, I was amazed by what I just saw, or a little bit of both. Sometimes it’s for individual scenes, but other times it may be for the whole film, where multiple viewings are intended by the filmmaker in order to better grasp what the viewer has just seen. There are quite a few films that I’ve seen which come to mind along those lines, and if I wrote out the director and writer of those films, the one director (and writer) whose name would come up most often is almost certainly Christopher Nolan. Breaking into the mainstream with the mind-bending thriller Memento way back in 2000, over the next 20 years Nolan has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood, with such critical and commercial successes as The Prestige, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, and Dunkirk. What’s unique about Nolan’s films is that while they are generally big-budget action spectacles, they also tend to be very complexly written in order to require the full attention of the audience throughout the film, and oftentimes focus on time and the manipulation of time in some way. That continues with his latest film, Tenet.
Featuring a mesmerizingly (and sometimes frustratingly) complex plot involving a sort-of time travel concept known as “time inversion,” and many “wow” moments where I wish I could’ve gone back and rewatched it right there in the theater, Tenet is certainly a must see for Nolan fans, as it has all the hallmarks of his other large budget projects: Great visuals, astonishing action sequences, plenty of twists, turns, and surprises, a smart script, etc. Thankfully, it also never treats the audience as if they’re stupid, which is unlike most other big budget action films and true for virtually all of Nolan’s films. Having said that, Tenet might also be his most complicated film, and quite possibly his least accessible to general filmgoers. There are many who will love what they see on screen, but it could also alienate other viewers who see Tenet as being overly and needlessly complex. It doesn’t help that Nolan has also continued a newer trend of either intentionally or accidentally using poor sound mixing in his films, where some of the dialogue is muddled or drowned out by either the booming (and occasionally intrusive) musical score or other sound effects (something I first noticed in Interstellar and felt was even more pronounced in Dunkirk). It’s probably also one of Nolan’s least emotionally engaging films, as the thinly-developed characters are basically there just to serve the plot, ideas, and concepts laid out within the film.
That’s not to say there isn’t some heart and soul to the film, but it definitely takes a back seat to the wild ride of awe and spectacle Nolan throws at you for the entirety of its never-boring 2.5 hour runtime. Despite some issues I had with it, Tenet is yet another very good and engrossing Christopher Nolan film that I think is worth seeing on the big screen at least once (which may be hard to do during this COVID-19 pandemic), and may require multiple viewings in order to better understand the decidedly complex plot. A wild and fun ride, I give Tenet a 7.5 out of 10.
– Ryan Zeid