After nearly a year of waiting to see TENET, I finally had the privilege to see the newest addition to the Christopher Nolan universe on Thursday evening with my brother and our friend Joey.
I typically try to avoid podcasts, articles and tidbits about movies prior to my initial viewing, but I simply couldn’t help myself when it came to TENET. And I really don’t regret that decision because the main bullet points I carried into the movie were completely right: the dialogue is often inaudible, the storyline is drenched in high-minded psychedelic sauce, and Robert Pattinson is far and away the film’s leading scorer.
In order to make this first real film review of mine both opinionated and adherent to an objective scale, I’ll be implementing a scoring system for each movie reviewed starting now and moving forward. Think of it was a box score for film, if you will. It will look like this:
⁃ 5 categories
⁃ 10 points per category with a 10 being the highest possible score
⁃ Category 1: The performances by the actors
⁃ Category 2: The overall direction by the “auteur” and cinematography
⁃ Category 3: The plot/storyline
⁃ Category 4: How it measures amongst its genre
⁃ Category 5: Miscellaneous (things such as music, originality, coherence, and truly any other thing above the movie outside of the main categories)
At the end of the scoring, the categories will all be added up to equal 50, and then divided by 10 to fall under a rating out of 5 stars.
The performances by the actors
John David Washington plays point guard, but Robert Pattinson notches a triple double in TENET.
JDW, who truly erupted into the mainstream with his role in Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman, is the perfect action movie star physically. He’s shredded, not too tall and not too short simultaneously, has astoundingly manly facial hair, and makes pull ups look really fucking easy (his acting on a pull-up bar in this movie may be his best work yet). Despite all of those overwhelming positive attributes, there’s a glaring issue at hand and that is that he is sort of comic-booky in his line deliveries. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but there’s a certain level of artificiality rooted in his dialogue.
Robert Pattinson is Robert Pattinson playing Christopher Nolan’s idea of what Christopher Nolan is in TENET. Handsome, quick-witted, full fledged rocking the shit out of a scarf and looking just as good with an assault rifle in hand.
If it weren’t for Pattinson, then Kenneth Branagh would’ve been my runaway MVP for this film. He is genuinely evil, threatening and horrifyingly powerful. I didn’t know he was capable of this type of performance, but the movie would’ve been much worse off without that crucial casting decision.
Lastly, no offense to Elizabeth Debicki, but wouldn’t it have taken someone just a little more attractive to garner the attention of such a powerful man? I would agree that she is objectively beautiful, but someone Sator’s shoes could have damn near any woman in the world. When it’s all said and done though, Debicki runs away with the role and doesn’t need to be “traditionally sexy” because of her innate ability to develop an emotional attachment with the audience.
The overall direction by the “auteur” and cinematography
Christopher Nolan shoots a $250 million Audi commercial complimented by Mission Impossible set pieces.
Once upon a time, Christopher Nolan took one too many tabs of acid and found out he could do a rewind effect on his iPhone to make it look like he was floating out of his pool instead of diving into it.
In all seriousness, some of the technical achievements in this movie are peak Nolan. You can see every penny being pinched into the production. There are very few directors I appreciate more as far as aesthetics are concerned than the neutrally colored tone of his films. Here’s a challenge for the reader: the next time you watch one of his movies, whether it be Inception, The Dark Knight or whatever, try to pick a Nissan Altima or Chevy Impala out of the crowd of automobiles. Nolan has been so rich for so long now that he must think a second rate car is a BMW.
Well, just like every other Nolan film, this is where it gets tricky.
I am a firm believer that the viewer should be able to have a fairly general understanding of the movie that they just watched upon first viewing. Sure, it’s wonderful to go on Reddit afterwards and pick up some really little things that you just missed in order to understand the story a little fuller. Like the cotton-picking-armchair scene from Get Out for example. But to not have even sort of a clue as to what the fuck is going on, or requiring some form of ADHD medication in order to keep up, that’s just stubborn and annoying filmmaking.
At one point very early in the film, a character blatantly says, “Don’t try to understand, just feel it.” At which point I looked my brother directly in his eyes and gave a heavy hearted shrug. That, sir, is a cop out, Mr. Nolan. I am all for rewatching movies in order to achieve a deeper love and understanding for them, but a rewatch should never be required in order to somewhat comprehend it. Perhaps I’m being a bit too critical here because I did sort of have an idea what was going on, but I couldn’t confidently define the plot to an interested friend even if I were given all damn day to do so.
How it measures amongst its genre
The tag line “James Bond on acid” did not disappoint, unless you’re measuring it against Skyfall.
TENET is classified in three genres: action, thriller and science-fiction. It is immensely successful in two of those three, and relatively impressive in the latter.
Much like most action movies; there are explosions, guns, car chases, and handsome men accomplishing impressive physical tasks with little time left on the end of the world’s shot clock. In this area, it is a thrilling movie that should keep any engaged viewer on the edge of their seat if they haven’t already forfeited to the plot’s nonsensical route navigation. I don’t want to, nor do I have the time or physics degree required to, discuss time as much as this movie does. So I’ll just leave it at this: each science-fiction movie should be measured against the GOAT in that genre, Ridley Scott’s Alien. This movie is not Alien, nor does it make even half as much sense as a movie about an alien life form terrorizing a ship of arrogant human beings.
Category 5: Miscellaneous
If you think that you’re the only one who can’t hear half the words being said in this movie, please be assured that you are NOT alone.
The consequence of a constant arsenal of either a.) explosives going off, b.) guns being loaded, c.) talking through masks, d.) the score being too overwhelming to overcome with normal ears, or e.) simply under delivered line readings is this: nobody can hear half of things that are being said.
Did I miss critical plot points? I don’t know, couldn’t hear shit. Did Pattinson just try explaining temporal science to me in a matter of 13 seconds? Couldn’t tell you because I didn’t a hear a god damn word, but I did enjoy watching his lips move.
If your movie is high-minded, complicated and a little far out, then fine. I’ll still watch it. It took me two or three times to fully comprehend Inception, and I was cool with that because it meant I could spend more time with Leo, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page and JGL. But to crucially, and I imagine it was purposefully, mask the dialogue with not undertones but overtones of background noises: well that’s just plain cruel. It’s not fair to my movie-OCD-completist brain. It’s rude, unrewarding and inconsiderate.
The only positive thing I can say about the miscellaneous portion of this review is that it was an original concept with some cool ideas. I know time travel has been abused by the movie industry time and time again, but Nolan’s take on it was refreshing albeit seemingly illogical during my first watch.