Tenet movie review & film summary (2020)

However, there’s never been a Bond movie so stuffed with expository dialogue. “Tenet” spends roughly two hours of its 150-minute run time explaining what is happening, why it is happening, and what might happen next. And yet even with that it’s still incredibly difficult to follow because Nolan goes so far down his own rabbit hole of time travel that one almost needs to take notes to keep up (and I still think it arguably wouldn’t all add up if they could). Scene after scene of Washington, Pattinson, Branagh, and Debicki trying to convey the plot becomes exhausting, and it’s Nolan’s biggest mistake. It would have been better to just leave more unsaid, and jump chaotically into the film’s mood and visuals instead of so often returning to over-analyzing a plot most people still won’t be able to follow. At times, it feels like a film crafted for YouTube explainer video culture. (There’s already one online that purports to deconstruct the ending and the movie isn’t even out in most of the world.) Early in the film, the scientist who explains inversion says, “Don’t try to understand, feel it,” and I wished Nolan had listened to her more. 

For some of his fans, this narrative assault is exactly what they’re looking for, but I prefer emotional registers in my Nolan that he seems only casually interested in here. The stakes don’t feel as high as “Dunkirk,” the maze construction isn’t as thrilling as “Inception,” and even the characters don’t feel as easy to invest in as “Interstellar.” Almost as if he knows his puzzle box is ice cold, Nolan adds the subplot about Kat losing her son, but it’s so underdeveloped that I don’t think her kid even has a line. The kid is as much of a device as an inverted bullet.

If “Tenet” can be a hard movie to engage with emotionally or even comprehend narratively, that doesn’t take away from its craftsmanship on a technical level. It’s an impressive film simply to experience, bombarding the viewer with bombastic sound design and gorgeous widescreen cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema. The movie never sags in terms of technical elements and even performance. Everyone is committed to Nolan’s runaway speed. Van Hoytema’s work is vibrant, Jennifer Lame’s editing is tight, and the performances are all good to great. In particular, Pattinson really shines in a playful register that he’s not often allowed to use.

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