Home Arts Tenet: it won’t let you breathe, but it’s beautiful to look at

Tenet: it won’t let you breathe, but it’s beautiful to look at

by Louis Pavlakos September 3, 2020
Tenet: it won’t let you breathe, but it’s beautiful to look at

Christopher Nolan’s love affair with time continues, with mostly confusing results

Christopher Nolan is infatuated with time. Many of his films have manipulated time in different ways to try to show his audience that it’s not as linear as we understand it to be. While some have delivered greater results than others, like Inception and Memento, it’s clear that Nolan has no interest in telling a straightforward story. Tenet continues this theme and it ends up being Nolan’s most ambitious, but also his safest, movie in years.

Tenet doesn’t let you breathe. From the beginning of the 150-minute film, Nolan showcases his characters in exposition-heavy dialogue scenes that try to advance the plot without spoon-feeding its deeper elements. Meanwhile, Nolan is throwing John David Washington’s character, literally called The Protagonist, in various scenes across the world as he searches for answers regarding his mission.

But even when Nolan does try to clear up the convoluted plot, you can barely understand what the characters are saying because of poor audio mixing, whispered dialogue, and Kenneth Branagh’s sometimes-incomprehensible Russian accent as the oligarch antagonist, Andrei Sator. When all you hear is bass mixed with murmurs, it may be a sign that the movie is too loud.

Without giving too much away, The Protagonist and Neil (Robert Pattinson) team up to stop a potentially catastrophic disaster that could end human life on Earth. That’s all I’ll say. But even with a central plot so simple, Nolan manages to make it convoluted while rarely offering a slower pace to absorb what’s actually going down.

Nolan directly implicates his love affair with time in Tenet as well,, but his interpretation of it isn’t as intriguing as it was in many of his previous films. In fact, his storytelling is so obscure that it’s easier to just accept the banality of the plot than to try and decipher it.

Yet, even with these story-telling plunders, Tenet remains captivating, largely thanks to a great performance from Washington and excellent action sequences that make the audience feel like they’re watching a scene out of some futuristic Call of Duty game. Yes, the action doesn’t stop, but because of that, it makes the two-and-a-half-hour movie seem shorter than it actually is. It’s a fun experience, but shallow.

Tenet is Nolan at his safest. He knows all he has to do is come up with an ambitious plot and expensive action sequences to get the masses flocking to the theatres (despite a pandemic). It’s by no means Nolan’s greatest film — in fact, it probably ranks among his worst — but it’s still a visual feat and a fairly good time.

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