After a few delays and what honestly might be a miracle, I was able to see Tenet on opening night this past Thursday. Tenet is writer/director Christopher Nolan’s newest feature film, coming off the heels of his Academy Award winning film Dunkirk. Tenet follows a man, played by John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), who stumbles upon a secret greater than anything he could ever imagine. To stop this secret from changing the world as we know it, he joins a select group who operate under the name “Tenet”. The entire film is beautifully crafted with multiple scenes that will leave you wondering “how did they do that?” All the performances are excellent and Ludwig Goransson’s (Black Panther, The Mandalorian) score is tense yet captivating. In order to truly review this movie, I have to discuss a few spoilers, mainly about the uniqueness of the universe this film crafts as well as the stakes of the third act. You have been warned.
Tenet is a carefully crafted, often times confusing, jumble of detailed action set pieces. Much like Inception, the first two acts of Tenet rely heavily on exposition to explain the world Christopher Nolan has created. It can feel a bit daunting at times, as the visuals matching the information being presented are not quite as interesting as the visuals of Inception. However, Goransson’s fantastic score manages to tighten the pacing of the exposition heavy scenes, while the camera creates an intense facade, forming a sense of anxiety despite the lack of action occurring on screen. The action blurs the line between practical and special effects.
Goransson’s score is a welcome change of pace, as Hans Zimmer has scored every Nolan movie since The Dark Knight. Tenet‘s score is heavy, often overtaking the rest of the sound in a scene. While this can make the dialogue harder to hear, it ultimately works in the film’s benefit. Where Goransson’s compositions truly shine is in the inverted scenes as, like the action within the movie, they too have been inverted.
The sound design in Tenet is simple yet effective. Every inversion, such as glass correcting, bullets being pulled back through an object or a car flipping itself back onto the road, feel weightless due to the lack of conventional physics affecting them. The entire sound design team did an excellent job making the reverse physics feel tangible.
All of this comes to a head in the third act, where the main characters are inverted, showing how the reverse physics apply to someone walking freely within them. We see first hand the negative effects of this reverse world. These larger-than-life stakes for John David Washington’s Protagonist and Neil (played by Robert Pattinson), are complemented by the more personal stakes of Elizabeth Debicki’s character, Kat. The man trying to end the world (played by Kenneth Branagh) is holding Kat captive in an unloving, abusive relationship. His defeat would give Kat the freedom she desperately desires. The dual stakes creates a more personal connection during the third act that would not be present if it was your average “save the world” ending that you see in so many blockbusters nowadays.
Tenet is easily the most convoluted movie Christopher Nolan has made since The Prestige. The story is carefully crafted, yet to a first time watcher, it is extremely confusing. The third act remedies this a bit with the cross-cut stakes holding equal weight unlike in Interstellar. Tenet will heavily benefit from a second viewing, but even without a thorough understanding of the film’s story, it is still one of the best blockbuster films I have ever seen and I cannot wait to watch it again.