2020 was a year we will all remember for the rest of our lives, and in amongst it all, somehow, Christopher Nolan’s ambitious, dazzling and mind-bending film Tenet still managed to make it to the silver screen. Though I did not, through personal choice, make the trip out to watch it, I finally got to sit down with it on DVD at the weekend and experience this unique film from one of my favourite writers/directors – not as the director would have wanted you to experience it for the first time, though, I am sure.
The survival of the entire world is at stake from an unkown threat and entrusted with a single word, Tenet, an unamed CIA Protagonist, brilliantly played by John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) embarks on a global mission to discover what is happening and who is behind the unkown, but quickly felt threat.
One of my favourite Nolan films is 2010’s Inception, and the undertones here of a concept you have to sit up and pay attention to is comparable. There is a parellel feel to both films, as the plot unfolds before you with breath-taking imagery. In Inception, you question which reality you are seeing, the film playing with your mind and vision, wrapping you up in merging timelines and in Tenet, time seems to rewind and fast forward.
But, first off, and let’s get this out of the way, much like 28 Days Later is not a zombie film, Tenet is not about time-travel, it’s all about Inversion here, as you and the excellent cast experience this dazzling imagery – bullets flying from where they hit, back into the gun, as a fight takes place with the same inversion. It’s all very impressive, and the actors had to learn to perform certain scenes in reverse, whilst others around them continued normally. If that all sounds a bit confusing, you would be right. It is all very confusing, and you cannot switch off for one moment.
And sadly, that’s where the film began to unravel for me. I got the concept, and I really liked it, was mesmerised by the performances. The afore mentioned lead Washington, ably backed up by a grand, likeable turn from Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse, Twilight Series) and a creepy, sinister performance from Kenneth Brannagh (Henry V, Murder on the Orient Express) as the obsessed Russian Oligarch, Sator, who threatens to unleash world III with his ambitions, whilst maintaining his oppressive, insidious hold over his lover, played wonderfully by Elizabeth Debicki (Widows, Guardians of the Galaxy).
It’s a mix of heady sci-fi, meets the world-hopping espionage of Bond and Bourne, but, sadly, no amount of visual wow could save it for me from the film’s first problem – underwhelming writing. At no point did I feel scared for the characters, or for myself, there was no creeping sense of dread to the world’s very exsistence, that there really was a catalcalystic threat. Spectacular (CGI-free) set piece after set piece, soon lost it’s wow-factor, and fights, whilst cleverly orchestrated, did not feel like they really connected in this post-Bourne and The Raid era.
I read many reviews when Tenet came out that is was innovative, it certainly is that, but it is not as ground-breaking as some have preiously said. The Matrix in my opinion, was the last film to truly break cinematic ground, and sadly, by the end of Tenet, I did not care what happened, despite the cleverness of how inverted things all were, and those, ‘Oh, that’s was her…. or, ‘that was him moments’.
And I come now to the real problem with the film for, which most likely disturbed my concentration, and for a film that begs you to pay attention, this is quite unforgivable. Tenet has one of the worst sound tracks/editing I have ever seen/heard/watched. Yes, we know the film is meant to be dramatic, but to have it constantly playing very loudly over pivotal moments of dialouge – well, actually, virtually every piece of dialogue, is just nonsensical!
Why? Just why? How did this make it through to the final release without someone saying, “Err, Chris, do you think it’s a bit loud?”
There were few moments of peace – and for two and a half hours, that leaves your ear drums exhausted.
At the end of the film, my wife turned to me and said “I think I heard about half of what they said in that film.”
Many have said that if you watch this film again, things click into place to replace any previous disappointment. Inception was clever, and I am certain Tenet is, even more so, if I give it another chance.
But will I watch it again? Will I take the time to invest over two hours of a life I cannot invert and get back? Or can I? Maybe one day – it certainly has a lot of merit in its vision and scope, but as I pass by my inverted self who has just finished watching it and is frowning at the thought of what I have just seen, I will nod knowingly to myself at what I am about to experience for the first time/again and probably turn on the subtitles.
Running Time: 150 mins (12a)
My rating: 6/10 10\6