Tenet (2020)



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Christopher Nolan loves to be Christopher Nolan. He wrote and directed Tenet and there is no escaping that fact. He is by far a much better director than a writer and Tenet shows just how wide that gap is. The title, Tenet, is palindromic just like the film itself. People can move forward and backward in time, not time-hopping, but interacting with the same scene both forwards and backward. It is a new take on time-travel, but it felt too clever by half.

John David Washington, of Blackkklansman fame, is the Protagonist. We go through his journey forward through time. We are quickly introduced to Neil, Robert Pattinson, a more experienced time traveler. The cast is rounded out by Kat, Elizabeth Debicki, and her husband, Sator, Kenneth Branagh. The cast is all fine, but they aren’t given enough to work with.

The Protagonist’s interest is confusing. He is trying to help Kat, figure out how time travel works, and prevent the end of the world. He gets deeply involved with Kat incredibly quickly. It took me a long time to come around to understand Kat. Her character was developed after the friendship already blossomed. It felt very backward, but so is half the movie technically.

The action scenes are interesting with people and vehicles moving forwards and backward at the same time. It is a novel concept and Nolan pulls it off well. Nolan is great at directing action sequences and he does not disappoint. The show portion is not the problem with this film. Some directors like to tell and not show, while others rely heavily on show. Nolan couldn’t make up his mind and does show and tell. The tell portion needs a lot of work. I saw this in theaters and desperately wanted subtitles. I missed keywords constantly; Sator’s Russian accent did not help.

The more time-travel is explained, the harder it is to accept. Nolan spends way too much time explaining the forward/backward through dialog that you are constantly confused. Charting out this film must have been a nightmare. I tried to turn my brain off, but the characters constantly explained what I was about to see. Again, Nolan cannot write anywhere near as well as he directs.

This film was supposed to be the triumphant return of audiences to theaters in the US. This film certainly was not enough to get massive audiences to brave the trip to theaters. Christopher Nolan is one of the best action directors of our time. He is not a great writer, yet studios continue to give him money. I was left with too many questions to fully enjoy this film.

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©2019 by Sean Whitehurst