WARNING: If you like to leave your brain at the door before you watch a theatrical movie…I can guarantee you that you probably will not like TENET. You will have to use all of your brain and then some to decipher the many layers of puzzles and enigma’s that this movie has in store for you, so if you are not up to the task, I wouldn’t even bother seeing it if I were you. While I understood most (if not all) of the movie, it is definitely going to require several more viewings before I can put the last pieces of the puzzle in place and enjoy this for the masterpiece of a film that it is. I love deciphering intricate movies and love it when they don’t spoon feed any of it to its audience. It challenges you, which is what some films SHOULD do. Another WARNING: the sound mixing in my IMAX theater in Dallas was terrible, but I’ve heard this isn’t a one off problem. I’ve also been told to see a digital print of it at a NEWER theater to be able to hear ALL of the dialogue that isn’t drowned out by the bass and Ludwig Goransson’s masterful (and future Oscar winning) score. Nolan has had sound mixing issues before, with Interstellar, Dunkirk, and The Dark Knight Rises, so like those, it will probably be fixed once it comes to disc, and even if fixed, will probably watch it once with subtitles on. If you think you can handle those warnings, well then, boy are you in for a treat. I’ll just be blunt now if that’s okay with you: Tenet is my absolute favorite film of 2020, it’s the best film (IMO) of 2020, and I hope it wins most of the technical awards (not sound mixing though) at next year’s Oscars. Is it in my top ten favorite films of all time, did it dethrone Inception at #1? More viewings will have to be required to determine the first question (but probably not even though I still think it’s a masterpiece), and definitely no to the second, but really, are you surprised by any of this?
I’ve been hyping this film for months, even a year, since a cryptic teaser for it was played in front of Hobbs & Shaw, and writer/director Christopher Nolan had barely begun filming the damn movie. I’ve been wanting to see this movie so badly you are probably sick and tired of me talking about it. But to be honest, now that I’ve seen the film and this review will be one of my final written words on the matter, I don’t want to reveal any of the surprises that this has in store for you. I can now only hope that this review won’t be too long (I always say that but you never know), and you won’t get bored by it. I can for sure say that on a visual and technical level, there is no better film making. This film, confirmed by Nolan himself, has less than 300 visual effects shots. That’s lower than the average romantic comedy. That’s insane. And the more practical effects any film has, the better it is going to be, because it is going to look and feel realistic. The score by Ludwig Goransson, who is stepping in for Hans Zimmer because he couldn’t due to Dune obligations, is amazing and I want to own it and listen to it by itself right now. It’s right up there alongside Inception, Interstellar, and Dark Knight (all fucking directed by Nolan) for me as one of the best cinematic scores of all time. The acting is also incredible. John David Washington, son of Denzel, completely sets himself apart from his father in his roles, whether it be this or BlackKklansman. Here, he is charismatic, funny, and almost brought a tear to my eye in the second to last scene. Robert Pattinson, who I was fine with even during Twilight, is fantastic here too. He steals all of his scenes with his accent, dialogue and charisma. and with this and Good Time, I cannot wait to see his eventual portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman and his scene chewing role in this month’s Netflix original film, The Devil All The Time. Kenneth Branagh shows why his film Artemis Fowl sucked so much ass (his concentration must’ve been in this role) as he is a fantastic villain in this, one that combines several James Bond bad guys into something totally unique, hateful, and frightening. But the emotional core of the movie belongs to the great Elizabeth Debicki, who’s soulful performance completes the few details we actually get about her character’s background.
If you were looking for a plot summary in my review, look elsewhere, as I have said this review is spoiler free, but for something quite vague, just look at IMDB’s perfect log line: “Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.” If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know that there is something up with inverted like time travel in this movie…but you should really just watch the movie instead of trying to solve things during my review. Speaking of espionage, this is basically Christopher Nolan’s James Bond film he’s always wanted to make, but on time and science fiction steroids. I loved every minute of it…except for the sound mixing of course. Let me change course really quickly here; I want to address some critic’s people’s problems they are having with this movie. Those that are saying its humorless? Get the fuck out of here. This movie has quite a bit of humor, as my friend and I laughed at all the stress reducing one-liners this film constantly had every five minutes. You must be out of your fucking mind if you didn’t think it had humor. “But Zach, the character’s didn’t have any back stories!” Yes, yes they absolutely did, you just weren’t paying attention and/or didn’t get why some of them didn’t seem to. One character is a CIA agent, he probably doesn’t have any family and being recruited into a top secret organization during the movie cements that, he don’t need much back story or family problems with him. Another character’s backstory, if explained to anyone that hasn’t seen this movie, would ruin the entire fucking thing. This character’s backstory is slowly revealed during the movie, which made things really interesting. The main girl protagonist had a tiny but powerful backstory motivation, and so did the fucking villain, so I don’t know what the fuck critics are talking about. They must’ve been too busy trying to follow the “convoluted” plot. Convoluted, by the way, is a word that 75% of film critics use when they can’t figure out the narrative on their own and wish they were spoon fed the plot. I’ve seen reviews for this film use that word way too often, which means that those critics probably need to watch the film several more times in order to understand that they are using the wrong adjective. Also, I think this movie had less expository dialogue and explained much less than Inception did, so why are those that loved Inception but didn’t like this even complaining? In fact, I am inclined to only agree with only one of their harsh critiques…which I don’t need to repeat what that is, as I’ve already mentioned it two to three times.
No matter if you see this film in theaters or eventually watch it when it comes out on home media, if you like intricate puzzles, fantastic visuals, a booming masterful score, pitch perfect direction, excellent performances, and you want to feel like you are on an adventure that you can just escape into (but still not turn your brain off) completely, look no further than Tenet. I loved every single solitary second and backwards second (you’ll see) of it and will definitely be making a couple of trips to the theater to put all of its pieces in place, and then several more times when it hits home media just to enjoy it by myself or with loved ones that are up to the challenge. My wife thought this movie was better than Inception…which was weird for me to hear, but whatever. My friend Josh, who I also saw this with, loved it as much as I did. I would definitely see this in the biggest yet NEWEST theater out there that there is, not necessarily in IMAX as Nolan intended it. If the sound mixing was perfect I would be recommending that format 100%. The visuals are something else, because they feel real and there is not one second of CGI that makes you cringe with how fake it looks, because there is hardly any it in general, and I honestly couldn’t tell where it was implemented. The movie is so much fun, it will take your breath away, and it will make you think about its implications long after the end title card comes up. But if you are one of those that thought Inception was hard to keep up with…uh, that’s like a walk in the park compared to this movie. Christopher Nolan has once again taken us to school, and has shown us there are still lessons to be learned in narrative storytelling, visuals, and almost all other technical film making aspects. Tenet may not be his grand opus (that still belongs to Inception in my mind), but he has made a perfect giant encore, one that you will be talking about more and more for years to come. Tenet is one of the reasons why I love going to the movies.
My ranking of Christopher Nolan films:
- The Dark Knight
- The Prestige
- Batman Begins
- The Dark Knight Rises