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Tenet is the latest film from Dark Knight and Inception director Christopher Nolan starring John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), Elizabeth Debicki, and a reinvented Robert Pattinson. The story follows The Protagonist (John David Washington), a CIA agent who weaves through a complex web involving time manipulation to prevent World War III.

Back to the… Past? As you can expect from Christopher Nolan's other work, Tenet's plot is complicated. Normally, this isn't a problem because he has a penchant for explaining very complex and mind-bending ideas clearly, but Tenet isn't normal. The concept of time inversion is explained well, given the time to wrap your mind around it, but here lies the problem: the movie goes by so fast that you end up with no breathing room to understand what is happening, the result is that the entire story becomes hard to follow.

Tenet (2020) Still of John David Washington and Robert Pattinson

“Can you say that again?” While people often complain of the sound mixing in Nolan's movies, which he attributes as a creative decision, the sound mixing in Tenet is absolutely inexcusable. The dialogue is impossible to hear in many key scenes, and it leaves the viewer even more confused by the already confusing plot. I understand using inaudible dialogue as a creative choice, as was done in Interstellar, but at one point, intentional confusion turns to annoyance when it becomes overused.

Acting/Characters: Almost all of the characters are so flat that you could change each of their traits, and nothing would really change. The strongest character traits come from Kenneth Branagh as Sergei Sator as the Russian villain (how original). The name for Tenet's protagonist is literally: The Protagonist… seriously? The characters seem to be a completely forgotten aspect of this film. Interstellar proved that Nolan can make a movie that has deep character relationships on top of mind-bending concepts. That being said, the acting performances are as good as the two-dimensional characters could allow. John David Washington has so much charisma — you can see that shine through a little bit in Tenet, but not nearly as much as in BlacKkKlansman.

 
Still of John David Washington

Some good with the bad. Although there are various aspects of Tenet that miss the mark, there are a few noteworthy things. Ludwig Göransson's score explores varied soundscapes, a departure from the typical spy/action movie scores that have plagued the genre for the past decade. This soundtrack paired with beautiful locations, including an oddly large amount of boats, make up for some of Tenet's faults. In addition to the locations, were the well-choreographed fight sequences where the people would move in forward and reverse in time at the same time(?). If you are confused, then you are not alone. And, the incorporation of the Sator Square was a nice touch.

The Ambition behind Tenet: For all of its flaws, my favorite part about Tenet is the ambition behind such a project. Nolan has toiled around with its core ideas for over a decade. I feel like for Tenet to have had been properly executed, it would either have to be much longer to allow time for the story relationships and conflicts to breathe, or maybe be a manual of some sort. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Inception, where the story concept pushed our imagination beyond where we previously thought possible. I just wish that the grand concept that Tenet played around with wasn't executed so poorly.

John David Washington in Tenet

Although it may seem that Tenet is Christopher Nolan is making a parody of himself, there are still a few redeeming qualities about the film. Tenet is a little too ambitious for cinema, but I hope that it will be a case of Nolan walked so that some future filmmakers could run.

Tenet
3.0Overall Score
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