In short, if you were confused too much by Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) a decade ago, then his new film Tenet is not for you.
Watching the first hour or so of Tenet is like walking slowly into the ocean, unaware that the floor beneath you is not as flat or reliable as you would like (such as in a pool).
Even looking to IMDB won’t help as much as one would hope when it comes to understanding the story, but I will give it my best shot (skip the paragraph though if you wish to find out for yourself.) A CIA agent (John David Washington) is sent to help prevent World War three. At the center of it is a Russian oligarch, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Brannagh), with a sort of clairvoyance/precognition ability. The agent (who is known only as The Protagonist), with the aide of Neil (Robert Pattison), is also set to help out Andrei’s mentally abused wife Kat (Elizabeth Debick) as he learns to deal with this new form of inverted time travel.
The directing skills of Nolan are obviously sublime, only to sometimes be matched by his skill as a screenwriter. While this is indeed shown in some of his other works such as the aforementioned Inception and 2001’s Memento (still my favorite of his), it seems a little too much to digest here (at least in the first half). The practical effects Nolan is known for (as well as using the wonderful actor Michael Caine) are still marvelous to observe (special effects of any kind are best when you are not worried about them). From a film making perspective, he was right to be sure this was shown on big screens (it was delayed due to COVID), because the movie was meant for the big screen.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of the film is the music. That is not to say the score by composer Ludwig Goransson is bad. The music is used to affect like you would expect in a Nolan film (though I was rather surprised it was not done by frequent Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer). The issue was that the music was, simply put, loud. The theater I was in was not RPX. A lot of the dialogue was drowned out. I am not sure if it was intentional, but it still was a struggle to hear over. I was reminded of something Steven Spielberg said while talking about John Williams: “Great composers know that the power of music lies in the absence of music.”
Nolan films are also known for solid acting, and Tenet is no exception. The standout to me is Washington. In only his second leading role (the first being 2018’s BlacKKKlansmen), he is starting to show is own voice and screen presence that is both somehow similar and different than that of his iconic father Denzel.
Parents, the film is PG-13, mainly for heavy action and some violence. There is also some swearing sprinkled in (including one F bomb). While there is no sexual content, there is one character in a bathing suit that is revealing (but is brief). That said, I would think 13 and up are good to go.
I have yet to mention how the film deals with something that has become overused in movies (and fiction in general): time travel. In some way, we all think of what we might do if we could travel back in time. Would we try and stop an assassination? Visit a long dead family member? Visit King David and have a dance off?
The same could be said for going forward in time: Do we see where we are at in our own lives? See what new technology is available? These and other questions are always fun to wonder about.
Whether it be Back to the Future, The Terminator Franchise, 2018’s Deadpool 2 (especially those ending credit scenes), Avengers: Endgame (2019), or the TV show Doctor Who (both classic and modern, I am a big fan either way), every new addition needs to add a different spin. Of course, this will all but guarantee some confusion. Like Inception, Tenet will require more than one viewing, which may make me appreciate it more.
Perhaps I should do so from an inverted prespective.