My love / hate relationship with filmmaker Christopher Nolan continues with his latest bloated, cerebral extravaganza, “Tenet.” Reviewing my notebook after the screening, I saw a scrawled notation that I felt I should publish verbatim because it sums up everything you need to know about this movie:
How can the first half be so good and the second half be so terrible?
I liked this film a lot until its halfway mark. I was willing to overlook the massive gaps in logic as the story played with timelines, moving forward and backward through the universe. I was okay with the gimmicky visuals filled with explosions and implosions, and the well-staged action scene at an airport art bunker. I actually enjoyed all of the quality performances from the cast (John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branagh). A good, solid 3.5 star movie rating was unfolding. Then the big shootout battle reared its ugly head and the film became a garish, tedious, overindulgent mash-up of “Inception” and “1917” that led to a dramatic drop-off in quality — and my interest.
The film delivers no surprises in terms of what you should expect from Nolan (who directed and also penned the screenplay). Many will say that if you didn’t like the movie, then you must not be capable of understanding the complexities that are presented. Nonsense, I say. Here is a film that invites its audience to overthink it because it takes pride in overthinking itself. In other words, it’s better not to make any reasonable attempt to logically solve the puzzles presented because it’s a typical Nolan mindf%&k that will drive you absolutely crazy trying to make sense of it all.
It’s not that “Tenet” is difficult to follow or interpret, it’s just purposely obtuse with a fluid timeline that jumps all over the place so the ‘where’ and ‘when’ keep changing. You can overanalyze a Nolan movie to death and never solve his puzzle that, by design, is meant to be impossible to decipher. It’s not an airtight story either, and you know it’s treading in messy waters when other films (“Memento,” “Star Trek” (2009), and “Another Earth” all come to mind) present more plausibility with similar ideas.
The film finds success with an anxiety-inducing score from Ludwig Göransson that ramps up the dread and refreshingly smart characters that actually do smart things. There are even some interesting ideas presented about men becoming gods and the concept of saving the world from what could have happened at some point in the past, present, or future. But instead of exploring these more sophisticated notions, Nolan delivers the final blow with the good old paradox cop-out that many writers use to cover up a story that makes no logical sense.
I hate that “Tenet” falls apart so spectacularly, because I think this could’ve been a terrific film with a whole lot more to say about the world we live in. Just because it is a “wtf did I just watch?” movie doesn’t mean it’s the profound work of a cinematic auteur.
By: Louisa Moore