Today i’m going to be reviewing the highly anticipated new Christopher Nolan film TENET. This film follows the classic Nolan experience of utter confusion followed by a desperate search for clarity once the credits have rolled. So hold your espresso and hear me out.
TENET film review And My Opinion
TENET is the story of the protagonist played by John David Washington. His mission to ensure the survival of the world from a fate apparently worse than nuclear war. To do this he must learn the art of time inversion. The premise of this film is incredibly complicated.
Step one of watching it is to eradicate the idea that it’s about time travel. Characters do not jump time in this film like in looper or back to the future. In TENET time exists but the characters are not bound by its linear limits. They can reverse or invert time. If you’ve already seen the film or are interested in gaining some clarity on the premise before seeing it, then you can check out a brilliant info-graphic on reddit. It is really useful in explaining or showing at least how the machine that they use functions.
Now as useful as this info-graphic is, i had to look for it after finishing the film. The film itself was not very good at explaining what was happening. The clearest it becomes is all the way in act three when we see an actual plan in action that uses time inversion. The lengthy conversations that were had before then, were usually quite confusing in delivering the information, especially scenes such as the one between the protagonist and Clemens Posey’s character.
At some points i was itching for an info graphic to come up on screen for all the characters to sit down in front of a whiteboard, like an inception. That take all of the things that they know individually and put it together to form some sort of logical explanation. Of course i don’t want to be spoon-fed or have important twists revealed too early, but i also don’t want to be lost in foreign terminology that felt like it was being introduced at a frantic pace.
In the reedit thread that i mentioned a user called Pittas Boris explained some ideas around particle physics, that really helped frame the story in a real world concept and made it easier to understand. I would have loved to have something like this within the actual film. What i’m trying to get at is that the experience of this film is different from other Nolan films that have difficult ideas. With memento the audience probably has a basic knowledge of amnesia and has definitely experienced a time when they forgot something. With inception the audience can again draw on their own experiences of dreaming. With TENET unless you are a keen physicist or lover of time theories the concept is entirely new.
My advice is prepare yourself for having a whole bunch of questions left unanswered. Invest some time after the film in researching the topic. For me this was one of the most enjoyable parts of seeing this film, because i got to learn about some interesting concepts and apply them to what i had just seen. I think Nolan’s films thrive on the satisfaction that is achieved when your brain clicks things together. With each revelation the film becomes more enjoyable. TENET is by far his most complicated puzzle yet.
There are many details hidden throughout the film that I look forward to remembering or discovering upon further viewings. So that was a lot of talk about the premise but it is justified because that is truly the core of this film. In terms of visuals the cinematography production design, and reportedly less than 300 VFX shots come together to create some pretty fantastic action sequences.
They can’t surpass the breath taking visuals of inception that made use of the endless possibilities you get with the dream world. But they nonetheless did some cool things with time reversal. The score was also very creative in this department but some of the main motifs played backwards at some point. It also had a very distinct futuristic feel and gave a fresh take on the wob-wobs that are prominent in Nolan’s blockbusters.
To deliver the premise we get a cast filled with familiar favourites such as Kenneth Branagh, and Michael Kane as well as some fresh faces. I had a little bit of trouble with Washington’s acting because it felt like he was just stating his lines. Sometimes pre-empting what the other actor would say and this led to an overall monotone performance.
In the scene with Michael Kane especially it felt like Washington was milli seconds away from outright talking overcame. Kane felt like he was gradually speeding up the delivery of his lines just to match Washington. Honestly this may not even be the fault of Washington as i’m not sure what he was directed to do. He could have been directed to talk faster or in post-production the editor could have ruined the pace by not giving enough breathing or thinking time between the lines. This again could have been the decision of the producers or Nolan himself.
Potentially it could have been the nature of the dialogue itself with so much information being given in such quick fire bursts. With such a collaborative medium it’s hard to pinpoint why something doesn’t feel right. However my editor whom i saw this film with didn’t have a problem with the acting or dialogue at all. So i would love to know what you guys think.
One thing we did both agree on that certainly didn’t help with clarity is the unintelligible dialogue when the background noises were just too loud. Sure in an interrogation scene next to a set of train tracks the train noises helped enhance the action. However in multiple scenes set out at sea the overwhelming wave noises covered some of the dialogue. Then of course there’s the mask a Nolan hallmark. As many of us now know talking through a mask is rather difficult to understand especially when it’s combined with having to talk through the glass between linear time and inverted time. Yet i can’t help but think were these things done on purpose to confuse me is, the intention to make me repeatedly re-watch this film, so i can gather new information each time.
Am i giving the filmmakers too much credit i don’t know? All i know is that TENET questions what would happen if the impossible becomes possible. As frustrating as it is to unravel the confusion is worth the gratifying sense of achievement in understanding at least a portion of what the heck is going on.