By Marc S. Sanders
Christopher Nolan is certainly the most imaginative director working today. Films like Inception and Interstellar welcome new kinds of science fiction dissimilar from most any other films. He is an incredibly inventive filmmaker. He’s so inventive, in fact, that I think he might have carried himself too far with his much anticipated sci fi spy thriller Tenet, featuring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson along with Kenneth Branagh in a James Bond villain role. Actually, there’s a lot of Bond inspirations here. Not surprising, as Nolan is a devoted fan with much admiration for The Spy Who Loved Me, in particular.
It’s hard to describe Tenet because it’s hard to fully comprehend Tenet. I don’t even have to worry so much about revealing spoilers because I likely wouldn’t know what I’m unveiling.
Washington is a good leading actor. This film along with BlackKklansman prove that. He plays The Protagonist (no name revealed) who is extracted from a hostage mission that opens the film at an opera house. Apparently the CIA liked how he handled himself in the field and now they want to assign him to the concept known as Tenet where time moves inversely with itself.
Try and stay with me here. If you fire a bullet out of a gun, the bullet can also be pulled back into the pistol if you are moving through time on a backwards trajectory. Sounds very Nolan, right? Sounds very cool as well and when the science of this is simplified early on it looks cool too. However, as the film moves on and objects and time traveling get more complicated Christopher Nolan seems to lose his way.
There’s a bomb out there made of technology that is unfamiliar yet. Why? Because that tech was perhaps invented in the future and brought backwards through time inversely to be detonated and literally destroy the world. The Protagonist has to prevent this from happening and so he’s partnered up with Neil (Pattinson) who is a handler with more knowledge about this mission and Washington’s character than he should know.
Tenet has some spectacular edits and footage of dazzling camerawork. It’s a contender for an amazing car/truck chase. Washington and Pattinson are good together. Branagh is fine as a vicious wealthy industrialist with a penchant for abusing his beautiful wife (Elizabeth Dibecki). CGI thankfully seems very limited as well. All of the gorgeous locales and vehicles are here. Warner Bros holds so much faith in Nolan’s works that his budget seems to not exist. There’s boats, yachts, helicopters, trucks, a fire engine and a BMW. There’s also a real life jumbo jet crash. It’s a gorgeous looking film and every dollar seems well spent. However, it’s not a well assembled film.
This is the first time I would NOT recommend seeing a movie in a Dolby theatre. The sound is obnoxiously loud. The musical score from Ludwig Göransson is POUNDING bass; so loud that I couldn’t even decipher any semblance of a tune. Much of the sound edits seem that way as well. It’s a headache to sit through this film. A terrible soundtrack and sound edit for sure. To watch Tenet on a technical level is to park your automobile next to that rebuilt Oldsmobile with the new gold rims and the maxed out speakers that shake your car while you’re at a red light. It’s terribly distracting and overly annoying.
Nolan also does not demonstrate his science very well here either. It’s hard to understand when someone is traveling normally through time versus inversely. Somehow it just occurs at times and you lose your way as to when it began. If you consider Inception, Nolan explains the tactical strategies of approaching someone’s mind by means of dreams and in sleep mode. Everything was spelled out nicely. You want to learn more and see more of the tricks. Tenet doesn’t leave you with that curiosity.
I didn’t hate Tenet. My wife did, however. There are close ups of arbitrary things early on that circle back later. So it kept me engaged when I uncovered some significance here and there. Still, it’s not enough.
Nolan conceived another brilliant and brainy idea. I only wish his delivery and the construction work of his crew, especially his sound and music staff, were more up to par.