The Stream: So confusing and complicated at least two viewings are necessary.
The Big Screen: Thrilling action sequences kick the movie into high gear.
The Final Bill: The spectacle may be worth seeing, but don’t expect to understand much of it.-S2S: Movie Review and Trip Fontaine
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Stars: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki | See full cast & crew
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Runtime: 2 hours 23 minutes
Trailers: Death on the Nile, Infidel, The Broken Hearts Gallery, Greenland, Judas and the Black Messiah, Dune
Release: September 3, 2020
Welcome back, Streamers! I braved the new world and an actual movie theater to see one of the most buzzed about features of 2020. That’s right! I risked COVID for you and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. It was nice to be back in a theater with a huge screen and a comfy recliner for the communal experience. We were socially distanced, a light crowd, masked up and sanitized as best as possible. While the theater-going experience went as well as can be expected in these times, I doubt that I’ll take another chance like that in a while. On that note, was Tenet worth the risk – keep reading for my thoughts.
There has been so much hype about Tenet. It is supposed to be the first mega-blockbuster post-COVID-19 to hit the movie theaters. It’s supposed to be outsized, action-y and the kind of spectacle that can only truly be appreciated on the big screen. Christopher Nolan has the clout based on The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and even prestige pics like The Prestige and Dunkirk. There’s an up-and-coming cast including Blackkklansman star, John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki, who was great in Widows, Golden Globe winner, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and everyone’s favorite vampire, Robert Pattinson. All of the elements are there for what should prove to be a top notch night at the movies.
So, I am not going to give a synopsis of the plot because 1.) I don’t want to spoil anything and 2.) I didn’t understand what was going on. There is literally a line early in the film from a character played by Clemence Poesy (her only scene) where she’s explaining the crux of the conceit of the movie to John David Washington’s character and she says, “Don’t try to understand it.” What?!?!? Which basically means that if you get lost in the plot of this movie, just give up and go with it. I couldn’t exactly do that because the script gets bogged down with still trying to explain and explain and explain the how and what of what is going on. It gets boring and frustrating at times. Even some of the acting is bad because of the stilted, overly explain-y dialogue.
On a side note: complicated movies are fine. In fact, Christopher Nolan has written and directed some excellent complicated movies. Inception and Memento are great examples. What those films did very well that Tenet fails to do is make a complex concept simple to understand in their cinematic universes. Nolan didn’t make that happen here.
In the plus column for Tenet, the film will be one of the most stylish movies you’ll see this year. The action sequences add just that jolt of energy this exposition-heavy film needs. Where big spectacle is needed, the film delivers. While there is a moment where the film reveals itself, it is still completely inscrutable even if it is exciting; so, you can enjoy it on a pure action, conceptual level but forget trying to find any deeper understanding from the film itself.
The ambition of Tenet is admirable. The craft of the work is top notch. The script is a confusing, stilted dud, which makes the actors struggle and no real connection is able to be made to any characters. Is Tenet worth seeing in a theater? If you see Tenet, you have to see it twice or maybe more times. In a pre-COVID-19 world, I’d say the spectacle alone is worth a ticket to the theater with a big box of popcorn. BUT in these pandemic times of September 2020, it is more worth shelling out some VOD money, split amongst a group of you friends, when Tenet is available on streaming, so you can pause and rewind to understand what it’s all about. Then, come to the comments and explain it to me, please! And then pass that handful of popcorn, please.