Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” (2020) is the latest film in his set of massive, mind-bending blockbusters — and massive it is indeed. With a budget of $205 million, this is one of Nolan’s most expensive movies yet, and one can see why. The set pieces are more ambitious than in any of his previous films.
If you loved the spinning hallways of “Inception” (2010) and the towering waves of “Interstellar” (2014), you’ll find “Tenet” incredibly fun. Be warned: The pace is like nothing you’ve seen before. This movie is faster than you can imagine, and every moment is important. Nolan gives the audience no time to rest, forcing each moment upon you as you try to decipher the previous scene.
To make matters more difficult, much of the dialogue is hard to understand. Whether it’s because the actors are wearing masks in some scenes, the background noise is overpowering or the fantastic music is getting in the way, you will certainly have trouble hearing many lines. Trying to decipher each word will be frustrating, especially in a film where every line is important to the plot.
John David Washington does a great job with the leading role, but it is a role that is written without much development or nuance. One can see what Nolan is going for: “Tenet” is an international spy movie through and through, and Washington’s character is meant to be a charming, mysterious agent along the lines of a James Bond. Washington conveys that quite well, but at the end of the day, the story lacks the emotional weight that many of Nolan’s previous films carried. If you go into the film expecting action and spectacle like you’ve never seen before, you’ll have one of the best movie theater experiences of your life. But if you’re expecting a film with all the subtlety of a truly beautiful story, you may want to look elsewhere.
Along this two-and-a-half-hour wild ride you’ll find yourself quite confused at times, but don’t worry. As Clémence Poésy’s character says in the film: “Don’t try to understand it, just feel it.” The plot itself is extremely intricate but is solid nevertheless. You may get lost in the weeds of why characters are doing certain things, or how “time-inversion” works, but a second viewing does wonders for appreciating this movie.
Special praise should be given to both the music and the cinematography. Ludwig Göransson composed a formidable score that will keep you on the edge of your seat. This will be the most bass-heavy audio experience you’ve ever had in a movie theater. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema almost exclusively uses Imax film, creating a stunning image that flatters both the actors and the many locations they visit. It’s all the more impressive when you realize Nolan avoids CGI whenever possible.
If you know what you’re getting yourself into, you’ll have a great time with this film. It’s not Nolan’s magnum opus, but it can certainly hold its own against his other great movies. “Tenet” demands to be seen on the big screen, but if you’d rather stay safe, then I’d highly recommend streaming it when it becomes available.