6/10 “You were the chosen one. It was said that you would destroy the…disappointing films of 2020…not join them!” I may be paraphrasing a little with that Star Wars line but it goes something like that in terms of relating to “Tenet”. Perhaps it was unfair of us in the movie going public to put so much pressure on one film to revitalize movie theaters, as if one film could get everyone to rush back to the cinemas. Expectations aside, “Tenet” not only failed to bring the slumping box office back but it is perhaps Christopher Nolan’s weakest film. For context, Nolan’s worst film is still better than most film maker’s best films and as you will see by the end of this review, I still do encourage you to go see this on a big screen as soon as possible. Before seeing this film on opening day, I spent a week re-watching the entire filmography of Christopher Nolan back to back in fairly rapid succession. He is one of the greatest film makers working today and also one of the best all time and exploring his filmography again only cemented that for me (I don’t have a “Memento” tattoo for nothing). What makes “Tenet” so disappointing is seeing him fall short in areas where he normally succeeds. In all of his films, he always provides memorable characters who are well developed so we care about them. When the stakes are high, we are on the edge of our seats because we care if our heroes live or die. For the first time in a Nolan film, I didn’t care about his characters because I didn’t know them at all. Nolan’s script gives us his least memorable, least fleshed out characters that come off as (mostly) bland and generic. John David Washington, as the film’s lead, is so plain and vanilla that he doesn’t even have a name. He is credited as “The Protagonist” which is fitting because the bland title matches his character. The movie’s villain is named Sator which is a really intelligent choice if you are familiar with the Sator Square or the Rotas Square. That brilliant choice of naming him Sator makes my scratch my head as to why our protagonist didn’t get an equally well thought out name. “Tenet” is Nolan’s take on a James Bond film (we got shades of this as well in the third act of “Inception”) with his own time inverted twist added for effect. Yet most Bond films succeed in large part due to providing memorable characters, giving us their backstory or motivations, etc. We get virtually none of that here as Elizabeth Debicki’s character is the only one who we begin to get to know and care about. Speaking of characters, I found it extremely frustrating and dumb how Washington’s protagonist would risk the mission (and therefore the entire world’s destruction) to save Debicki’s Kat character. Not only would saving her be pointless if the mission fails since everyone would die, but his blind loyalty to her, despite having known her for only a day a two made absolutely no sense why he would risk it all and endanger the mission for her. There are even inconsistencies within characters. For example, early on in the movie there is a great scene where Washington beats up five or six guys with relative ease, despite their training and size. Yet for the rest of the movie, Washington is easily able to get manhandled by one to two henchmen and puts up virtually no fight in return. I couldn’t tell if he was a well-trained badass or just your average guy. It’s such a shame because there is a lot that works here and that will blow you away, hence why this movie should be seen on the big screen. The concept of the plot with time inversion is an extremely unique and fascinating one that only a film maker like Nolan could bring to celluloid. Debicki, along with Robert Pattinson and Kenneth Branagh give the three best performances in the movie and are really strong in their roles. For a cold movie devoid of any warmth, humor or charm, Pattinson is the sole provider of all of those elements and they are very welcomed. The production elements are all top notch, as one would expect from a big budget Nolan film. The production design, costume design, action set pieces, fight choreography, visual effects, editing, cinematography and score are phenomenal. The Academy Awards are going to be odd come early next year but expect this movie’s editing and cinematography (possibly score as well) to be recognized. Ludwig Göransson fills in for Hanz Zimmer and gives us an extremely memorable piece of artwork and if you look into how he inverted music depending upon which scene the movie is showing, that will make his work all the more impressive. What makes “Tenet” worth seeing and doing so on the biggest screen possible is the fact that visually, you will see things in this movie that you will have never seen in any other film before in your entire life, which is not something I am often able to say. One thing I adore about Nolan is his use of practical effects over CGI and he continues to utilize those incredible practical effects (there will be shots in this movie that will make you wonder how the Hell they even filmed this in the first place) in “Tenet”. Göransson’s bombastic score paired with the insane visual originality and mind numbing action is enough for the price of admission alone. Speaking of the score however, this has maybe the worst sound mixing out of any movie in recent memory. For those of you who aren’t aware, the sound mixing is the art of mixing the sound levels between the dialogue, the sound effects, the score and basically any other noise that produces sound in a movie. Nolan’s films used to never have problems with sound mixing until “The Dark Knight Rises” came out and we couldn’t understand large chunks of what Tom Hardy’s Bane was saying. He followed that up with “Interstellar” which also had a few scenes where dialogue could not be heard over Zimmer’s breathtaking score. His last film, “Dunkirk” has a segment with two pilots (welcome back Tom Hardy) communicating via their radios and Zimmer’s score and the sound of gunfire drown out a lot of their dialogue as well. We culminate with the worst sound mixing of Nolan’s career where we have several scenes where we have no idea what the characters are saying and in a movie where you have to pay attention and think and know what’s going on, this expositional dialogue is crucial. One scene in the ocean on a couple of futuristic sailboats has three of our characters communicating via microphone head sets and although we pick up words here and there, there wasn’t one full sentence I fully understood in the multiple times I saw this movie. The next time I watch this I will need subtitles to see what is being said but with sound mixing being such an easy problem to fix, it continues to frustrate me that one of the greatest living film makers is the worst living director with sound mixing. Even awful, terrible movies have better sound mixing than Nolan’s past several films. Washington, who is a great actor, also was underwhelming here. He handles all of the physicality with ease and looks great in a suit but some of his line deliveries surprised me that that was the take they went with. The first viewing absolutely blew me away with the visuals and how everything was edited both forwards and backwards simultaneously but I found in repeat viewings that once the shock and awe of the visuals aren’t new anymore, you’re left with bland characters we don’t care about (Aaron Taylor-Johnson has the personality of a G.I. Joe action figure), reciting dialogue we can’t hear, as Nolan focuses in on style over substance. The originality of the ideas at play, a few great performances and some of the best visuals you will ever see in a movie are enough to recommend this movie but for someone as talented as Nolan and who usually writes fantastic characters, this is a rare misstep for the film maker. I hope enough people complain about the sound mixing for him to take note for his future films and I am confident he can rebound with his next picture.
#SixOutOfTenet / #SatorsWillSayItsPhotoBombed / #DeathOnTheSoundDial / #WeLiveInATwilightSagaWorld / #PalindronesOn / #LiveOnTimeEmitNoEvil