"Tenet" is written and directed by Christopher Nolan, an artist often considered as one of the most visionary directors of the modern era. Best known for his films "The Dark Knight," "Inception," "Memento" and "Interstellar," Nolan cannot be doubted as an acclaimed director with a specific cinematic flair. However, he doubles as someone who consistently struggles with the humanizing aspect of storytelling within his epics. This film is unfortunately no different.
"Tenet" stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki, three characters all living in a world where the future is in communication with the present and their past, causing time to inverse on its head. Because of this state of the world, these pseudo time travelers have the ability to know exactly what will happen before it actually happens, and thus an opportunity to change it all at the same time. If that sounds overly confusing, it’s because it is.
"Tenet" is another installment in Nolan’s filmography that tries to be too smart for its own good. Reminiscent of "Inception," this film focuses too heavily on developing the mechanics of the sci-fi plot and in turn struggles greatly in terms of creating likable characters and a story that is graspable for the viewer, which is unsuccessful on both fronts.
I went into this film knowing very little about the plot, and full disclosure mostly looked forward to Nolan’s signature cinematography … and the promise of Pattinson. Coming out of it however, there were more parts of it that I enjoyed than I thought I would. The scenes that showcased the complex camera work and effects that were needed in order to make the inverse sequences work were exceptionally impressive, along with the intricate and well-flowing choreography that went hand in hand. The movie was also beautifully shot of course. The colors and tones were immaculate — but that tends to be a given with Nolan’s work.
In terms of characters in this film, there is a sprout of charisma that can be accredited to the lovable and vulnerable performance from Pattinson and the stern confidence of Washington, which opposite the fiery and vengeful Debiki all work well together to offer characters that do feel as though they belong in the world they’re in.
By far what grabbed my attention the most throughout this film was the incredible score by Ludwig Göransson. Mixing the modernity of Hanz Zimmer’s "Inception" score and the remnants of an electronic orchestra, Göransson creates a theme that is exceptionally fitting for the film it compliments. Unfortunately, however, as with numerous other aspects in this film, it’s not given the true spotlight it deserves.
The story of "Tenet," while allowing for revolutionary action scenes and benchmarks for sci-fi visuals, is virtually empty. With a cast of talented actors and a unique premise, Nolan could still barely muster more than a mundane character arc for those involved. The villain of this film is one of the most interesting characters, and even he is generic with an “If I can’t have it, no one can” mindset.
That is the original sin of almost all Nolan films- they rely far too heavily on an in-depth, possibly interesting yet overly confusing plot aspect. In "Memento" it’s memory loss, in "Inception" it’s dreams, and in "Tenet" it’s inverted time. It’s without a doubt a very clever and well-done premise for a film, but because of this, Nolan has to invest so much time and effort into the pseudo-science that he is never able to create characters the audience cares about or even a plot that is as in depth or as interesting as the basic premise of said pseudo-science. Because of this the cast does the best they can do to offer intriguing characters, but at the end of the day they are entrapped in a story that seems to be traveling down the bleak road that so many Nolan films have before.
As previously stated, while there is impressive cinematography and applaudable performances in this film, the script fails to impress by trying to be too knowledgeable and wise for its own good. It drags itself in circles, similar to the way that the characters are looping through time in the film, but unlike those characters, a story needs a conclusion and a forward moving plot in order to be truly successful, something that "Tenet" unfortunately falls short on. I give "Tenet" a B-.