Tenet review “Not one of Nolan’s best”

Tenet movie poster

The time has arrived: my first visit back to the cinema since COVID-19 swept across the globe. It’s hard to believe that it was over six months ago that I was last sitting in the cinema, enjoying the magic of the big screen.

Nevertheless, the day has come, and with it, the release of Christopher Nolan’s latest epic, Tenet. As is the case with Nolan’s movies, a lot of fanfare accompanies their arrival and as one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, so it should. But how good is Tenet? Are we looking at another Nolan masterpiece?

And forgive me if I’m a little rusty, it’s been a long time!

A secret agent (John David Washington) embarks on a dangerous, time-bending mission to prevent the start of World War III, but runs into some obstacles that could change the face of the earth along the way.

First thing’s first, this is not Nolan’s best work, or even in his top five for this reviewer. While proficient in every conceivable area, it lacks charm, rendering it technically spectacular but emotionally deficient.

John David Washington in Tenet
© Warner Bros.

Thankfully, the wonderful cast helps to stem the disappointment somewhat. With the new Dark Knight himself, Robert Pattinson, as well as Sir Kenneth Branagh and the always wonderful Elizabeth Debikci alongside John David Washington, the acting and performances are absolutely spot on. While the script doesn’t allow for much in the way of development and attachment, Debikci in particular wrings every ounce of emotion there is and makes for the most interesting character throughout the film.

Elsewhere, the action sequences are filmed in that typical Nolan style – wonderfully choreographed using practical effects and seamless CGI to make you really sit up and take notice of what’s happening on screen. One sequence in particular that we won’t spoil for you here is staged exceptionally well and breathtaking to behold.

Unfortunately though, the script is occasionally too clever for its own good. Where Interstellar and Inception took the time to explain the process of their plot, Tenet throws you in at the deep end. This would be fine for any other film, but there are so many threads and so many different plot points, that at times, it just doesn’t make sense. Perhaps on repeated viewings, things will be made a little clearer, but on this first impression, it struggles to set up its premise effectively enough in the first act.

There’s also some atrocious sound mixing issues where ambient noise or even the admittedly excellent score from Ludwig Göransson block out any dialogue whatsoever. This is especially irritating as the characters set up the film’s final act, but occurs frequently across the runtime. I left the cinema thinking that this could have been an issue with the chain I was visiting, but on reading further, it appears others have had similar issues.

Overall, Tenet is a technical accomplishment with engaging special effects, thrilling set pieces and committed performances. But while all of this makes for a film that works well on a superficial level, start scratching the surface and you’ll realise there really isn’t all that much underneath. One of Nolan’s best it definitely isn’t.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Check out our review of Dunkirk.

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