The only way to try and review Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is to use Winston Churchill’s description of Russia in October, 1939, “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” Put another way, after sitting for a long two hours, thirty minutes, most viewers will leave the theater shaking their head, wondering, “What in the hell was that about?”
Don’t get me wrong, as the film’s musical score and cinematography are Oscar worthy and the performances of John David Washington, Robert Pattison and Elizabeth Debicki, all playing heroes, are wonderful. And Kenneth Branagh is unforgettable as a villain that you will love to hate.
However, the problem with the movie as voiced by some critics is that you have to see it at least twice to understand the plot. You know that it deals with a form of time inversion that allows some device of the future to destroy the past by having it go in reverse, but the battle that ensues is hard to grasp.
While you want to like it beyond question, the film has another profound handicap. Given the very loud sound track combined with our heroes frequently having to wear various forms of gas masks, much of the dialogue becomes hard to understand. Sure, my hearing aids didn’t help, but I kept wishing that Nolan had used subtitles to make sure nothing got lost.
Though the film had a love interest dancing under the surface, it stayed at arms-length. Branagh and Debicki were a married couple that hated each other, and she stayed on board only to keep her young son alive. In addition, despite being as sexually attractive as Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest (1959), you knew that the mutual attraction between her and Washington could never surmount obvious barriers.
As good as Washington was, and after all he is Denzel’s son, Robert Pattison’s dynamic performance saved this film by any definition. While he will always be remembered for the Twilight trilogy (2008, 2011, and 2012), he is undoubtedly the male sexual counterpart of Ms. Debicki. I look forward to his turn as the caped crusader in next year’s Batman.
So, go buy a ticket quickly as the only reason it is likely to last on screen is that it is a film playing in a movie desert. While it has some admitted strength, it simply doesn’t measure up to Director Nolan’s previous accomplishments as seen in Memento (2000), his three Batman films (2005, 2007, 2012), Inception (2010) and Dunkirk (2017).
Churchill should have been a movie critic.