I really wish I liked this movie. If you love stunning action, incomprehensible plots, beautiful people looking very serious, ludicrous amounts of exposition, and an eardrum pummeling soundtrack, you might enjoy this movie more than I did.
Tenet is the latest science fiction action film from Christopher Nolan. It follows John David Washington playing an unnamed hero. He saved the people inside the Russian national opera house from a terrorist bombing. Or maybe it’s a military coup, or maybe it’s a political assassination dressed up to look like a terrorist bombing. It’s very unclear. Also unclear is why this American is in Russia doing any of the things he’s doing. But don’t worry about it. Before you have time to wrap your head around it, the movie is zipping off to the next thing.
Eventually Washington’s character becomes involved with a secret organization that is using time travel to save the world from a future war that will wipe out humanity. Kenneth Branagh plays a Russian businessman who uses the future technology to enrich himself and may be planning to destroy the earth. I say “may be planning” because I seriously don’t know. In spite of the literally two hours of explanatory dialogue some things remain very unclear.
Part of the problem is the sound design. The music is incredibly loud. The sound effects are incredibly loud. The background ambient noise in the scene is incredibly loud, and all of this noise is playing over the dialogue. A lot of that dialogue is delivered I’m rushed whispers. It’s impossible to hear everything they’re saying and to make sense if it before the movie has hurried on to the next scene of explanation.
A couple things are clear. Using future technology, objects or people can experience time in reverse. People are literally moving backwards in time. This creates some stunning moments. There’s a fight scene in which one person is moving forward in time and the other is moving backwards. The fight choreography is incredible. The way it’s shot and the use of effects is mind boggling.
There is a car chase that involves people moving forward and backward in time. This is shown twice. The first time it’s a pretty standard car chase. The second time it comes alive because it is shown through another characters point of view. Seeing the whole thing play out in reverse is so much cooler than watching it forward.
The actors all do their best. John David Washington, gives a really solid performance. He anchors the movie. He’s a mostly stoic protagonist, but he has charm and charisma carries the action well. One late scene between him and Robert Pattinson really works as his emotions break through. Robert Pattinson has an easy charm as a somewhat foppish agent of sorts who takes care of business with an impish grin. Elizabeth Debicki plays the suffering wife of the villain. It’s a role she’s played before and better, but here she brings an emotionality that the movie desperately needs. Everybody here is so cool it’s nice to see someone who isn’t so calm and collected. Kenneth Branagh is genuinely scary here playing the Russian villain. He really has the smoldering villain thing down.
The trouble is that these great actors aren’t given much to say aside from explaining where they’re going next, what they have to do when they get there, and why it’s so dangerous. It feels like a bad version of mission impossible. It’s all tell very little show.
It’s not without its moments and it’s merits, but in the end it’s just not that good. You definitely shouldn’t risk your life to see it in the theater. Nolan is one of the visionary’s of modern cinema, but this one is a gorgeous misfire. It looks great, the ideas are there, but it doesn’t do much of anything.
Not really my cup of tea. B