‘Tenet’ review: Bad no matter the direction

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
STARRING: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia
Now in theaters

It’s like this: a guy in the future named Sator (Kenneth Branagh) is pulling some shit and is threatening all humanity with a machine which enables him to time travel in such a unique way that the past is the future and the future is the past and both of them will meet and…aw, fuck. I can’t even begin to make sense of this bullshit.

Enter a nameless CIA agent (John David Washington) who is simply dubbed “The Protagonist” (I wish I was making that up), the man who will stop him because he knows about the Entropy/TENET technology — because he’s taught about it in five seconds and picks it up just like that.

What is it? It’s this thing where things are reversed…and stuff. And people do things in reverse. Again, there’s no fucking way I can explain it that would even make sense. The Independent tried to write some sort of “primer” for viewers who were confused following the viewing of this movie and even THAT doesn’t make any sense.

Seriously, you KNOW you’re in trouble when one of the techs teaching The Protagonist about TENET actually says “Don’t try to figure it out, just try to feel it.”

If you can’t explain your own gimmick to your audience in some sort of understandable fashion, then it has no business being in a movie. Period.


The movie is basically a mash-up of director Christopher Nolan’s past films, “Memento” (the timeline moving backward), “Interstellar” (time displacement), and “Inception” (dudes wandering the streets with 9mm’s wearing Brooks Brothers and Armani while working on a complex mission that’s all but explainable).

Before I get swung at here, yeah, I get what happened. But I know a lot of people who didn’t. I don’t blame them. The film is near impenetrable.

First, there’s no reason to care about ANYONE you see in the film. Nobody. Washington plays The Protagonist like he’s Bond in a poker game 24/7. He recites and mumbles lines like a zombie and that’s about the same for everyone else in this movie. Everyone is a goddamn cold fish.

And what’s even more insulting is that Nolan tries to push Branagh as a Russian (with a marbles-in-your-mouth Russian accent like he’s a goddamn Bond villain) who underneath his misogynist exterior and volatile nature just wants a great future for all mankind — and that The Protagonist and Kat, Sator’s wife (Elizabeth Debicki), are somehow romantically interested in one another — and Nolan fails on both counts.

Branagh plays a complete asshole who you hate through 99 percent of the film before he tries to change tact and Washington and Debicki have zero chemistry whatsoever. In fact, there’s no real chemistry between Washington and ANYONE in this film. Washington shows up, he glares, he mumbles at people, and then he leaves. Rinse, lather, repeat for 2 1/2 hours.

The only real interesting character with any semblance of a soul is Neil (Robert Pattinson) and there’s simply not enough of him to even make this fun.

What’s more, Debicki’s “Kat” is a stereotype, a woman who reminds us every second of what she’s sacrificed to be where she’s at. Yep, we get it. She’s a mom who cares for her kid — and that’s the basic gist of her character. She’s THAT FLAT.

Then there’s the terrible A/V factor.

Look, I get Nolan wants to shoot in both a widescreen format while injecting some IMAX shots in there to wow his audience — but I’m over this.

Pick a lane, dude.

An hour in, I was tired of the film switching between black bars and my entire screen filling up. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, either. Did the opening concert sequence NEED to be shot in IMAX only to switch to black bars for a scene in a building? I found the rooftop scenes to look amazing — so why didn’t he shoot that in IMAX, too? It’s just random and off-putting.

The audio sucks. Every boom and bang is lovingly captured and the surround sound is gorgeous — but you can’t hear the dialogue half the time because everyone either mumbles it, speaks so fast, or the film’s score marches right over it. It’s bad.

And, by the way, am I the only one annoyed by Nolan’s penchant for just vomiting expository dialogue all over his films? He does it in just about EVERY SINGLE MOVIE HE’S MADE and it’s past its freshness date. Just surprise me. I don’t need to be an hour and 45 minutes in to learn some sort of character motivation that drove somebody to be the opposite of who we thought they were the entire time. It’s annoying and beyond predictable at this point.

Lastly, I don’t care about the damn “gimmick” in this film. It’s a gimmick for the sake of being one. “Inception” and “Memento” actually had prizes at the end of their mazes and you were on the edge of your seat even right up to the end credits. This feels like Nolan attempting to prove how “clever” he is. You can smell his ego all over this picture.

What’s worse, the gimmick messes with the flow of action scenes, bogging them down completely. Watching characters fight with characters who are stuck in “reverse” is frustrating. It’s like watching a WWE match where both wrestlers keep botching every single move in succession and flail as they try to cover for their mistakes.

All of this makes “TENET” into something you never thought a Nolan film might be: intensely BORING.

The only thing that saves the film from being a complete disaster is the gorgeous cinematography and even that gets dirty and gritty and isn’t pretty to look at.

“TENET” is an insanely pretentious and colossal miscalculation, one which talks a decent game but then baffles you with bullshit because it’s incapable of dazzling you with drama.

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