A CIA agent uncovers a plot to take down the entire world with a weapon from beyond our time in Tenet.
Writer/director Christopher Nolan delivers his latest mind-bending adventure in a film that would challenge even the heartiest fan to explain its serpentine plot. He inexplicably complicates the journey by giving us a lead character known only as The Protagonist, played dutifully by John David Washington (the son of award-winning actor Denzel Washington).
This is a rickety roller coaster in film form. The tension ratchets up from the very first frames and doesn’t seem to relent unit well after we reach the safety of our car out in the parking lot. Anyone who shows up late is likely to be even more lost than the rest of the audience. Clues to the action are spread throughout the film like a grand game of Where’s Waldo? Thankfully, spotting them isn’t essential to enjoy the film, but will clearly provide for many head-slapping moments during subsequent viewings.
The action sequences are fast, furious and utterly fantastical. Breathing is something that Nolan apparently expected you to take care of on your own time. Blinking is entirely a bad idea.
Nolan’s career is marked by projects that challenge the viewer, starting with his first film Following (1999) and including Memento (2001), The Prestige (2006), Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014). Each new entry takes Alice further down the rabbit hole. Nolan lost me on these trippy trips partway through Inception. This installment would have made Stephen Hawking feel stupid, and that’s not an emotion that I generally enjoy as a viewer. Tenet just doesn’t feel as if the story holds up to scrutiny. To go into detail would expose critical plot elements. It suffices to say that I came away feeling that Nolan isn’t even following his own rule book for how this is all supposed to work, and that’s just cheating.
One odd problem involves the film’s title and how it’s referenced . We’re told of its incredible importance early on to then only have it materialize just once, almost as an aside. Then there’s the film’s unnecessary length. Certainly, part of that is a by-product of the complexity of the script, but much of it consists of action sequences that often feel as if they exist only to showcase the ingenuity of the effects team. “Hey, look at what I can do!”
The performances are all first-rate. including — for me — a surprise performance from Robert Pattinson as The Protagonist’s mission partner. Pattinson has taken to heading up really bizarre roles of late, and this one comes off as downright pedestrian by comparison.
You should also be aware that many of us who saw this in advanced screenings had major issues with the audio. Much of it seems overdone, and a lot of it covers up dialogue in a film where even a dropped syllable might be too much to bear. If you see films with talkative friends, distract them with popcorn, or resort to a muzzle.
The most surprising impact of the film is that, for all its challenges, I still enjoyed the ride. I can’t for the life of me explain it or tell you that I even remotely get it. I don’t, but sometimes a roller coaster is like that. It’s about the ride, and this is one thrilling ride.