‘Tenet’ is, without a doubt, the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a very long time! Part of this is obviously because I’ve been stuck watching movies on my television and the summer movie season was ripped apart from us. A fact that may have not set well with some, but I believe to be the right call considering all the souls we’ve lost around the world (my wife is still battling back the long term effects from Covid). Still, I cannot stress how awesome it was to be back at the movies and seeing this movie in an IMAX theater.
Now, I will try to separate the thrill of being back at the theater from the thrill of seeing this film. But let there be no doubt, this movie is the experience that it is because of the theater. Which is exactly the way Christopher Nolan envisions all of his films. He wants to give you the biggest and realest set pieces you can experience. Nolan wants you to feel every gun shot and every blast of orchestra in your chest. You may not care about going to see a Charlie Kaufman brain teaser in the theater, but a Nolan film is intended to be experienced on the biggest screens in the world. And this film is as big a film as has ever graced silver screen.
I’ll get to the mind bending plot concepts of inversion in a minute, but I want to first marvel at the technical aspects of this film. Much has been made about how much of these amazing visuals here were done without visual effects and I cannot tell you how big a deal that actually is. There is not a shred of artifice in this movie. Nothing looks fake or questionable. None of the time flowing backwards stretches our belief in what we are seeing. Like a great magic trick, it all just makes you wonder how they pulled it off. Never have I looked forward more to a “making of” documentary.
We also have to marvel over the stunning cinematography. Hoyte Van Hoytema is quickly becoming one of the finest cinematographers in the world and this movie has some truly stunning imagery. Jennifer Lame edits the shit out of this movie. Honestly, it is cut in such a propulsive manner that it hardly gives you a moment to catch your breathe. A fact that carries brilliantly into the sound. Ludwig Goransson’s score mixes brilliantly into a supersonic soundscape that will either overwhelm or enrapture audiences. I’m in the latter part of that equation.
This brings us to the most debated part of this film and the most complained thing in all Nolan films. Some audiences just generally believe that his films are too loud, too busy, and are irritated by dialogue being muffled by the propulsive soundscape that Nolan chooses to use. I can admit to having issues with understanding characters in pretty much every Nolan film I’ve seen in theaters and also admit that I did not give a damn. The sound mixing in Nolan films is a special thing that most filmmakers choose to separate with ADR. Nolan and sound mixer Rick King create a wall of sound that surrounds the audience. You are covered in the soundscape of music, dialogue, foley, and sound effects. It makes the film feel like it’s baring down on you and he uses the music to create a rhythm for every scene. It turns every film into a roller coaster ride. So, if he has to lose a few words in the process, I think 5 Academy Awards and billions of dollars has shown us that’s just fine.
The last piece of the brilliant technical side of this film is the stunt work. My hat is completely off to the brilliant team of stunt coordinators and actor John David Washington for clearly doing his own stunts. There is a fight sequence in this film where one character moving forward in time fights another character that is moving backwards in time and it is the most stunning fight I’ve ever watched in a movie. Truly, they should invent the Oscar for stunt work just so they can reward this brilliant sequence. Yet, this scene is just one of a plethora of unforgettable action set pieces. This movie literally throw everything at you, from a 747 crashing into an airport, to a highway chase with inverted cars. In fact, the concept of Nolan’s final action sequence is so cool that I have already ruined it for 3 people at work. I’ll keep my fingers sealed here.
Although, that’s a perfect segue into the story of this mind bender, because I could tell you all about the second half of this film and you still would be completely confused. I am one of the few people I’ve read that actually understood the film pretty well and I’m still scratching my head at some parts. In fact, there were parts in the film that were so confusing as I was watching it that I literally forgot why the characters were doing what they were doing. For me, this type of thought provoking storytelling is the most rewarding. I know that I’m missing pieces of the puzzle, but I can’t wait to go back into the movie and find them.
The story is actually pretty simple when you think about it from an overarching perspective. You have a protagonist played by John David Washington and he is sent on a mission to stop a madman from ending the world. Typical James Bond stuff right? Wrong. The devil is in the details. The weapon that will used to cause the end of the world is a little thing called inversion. Inversion is a phenomenon that allows a person, place, or piece of matter to move backwards through time. Not just as a transport, but to physically move backwards while the rest of the world is moving forward. These future humans can also invert objects in a way that allows people to manipulate the physics of objects that have been inverted and sent back through time. The most dangerous of the humans is an arms dealer named Sator (Kenneth Branagh in his juiciest role in years). Sator is married Elizabeth Debicki’s character (Kat), but the relationship is abusive and Sator will not let her leave it with her life or her son. The machinations of the story exist in such a way that the protagonist must use this toxic relationship to get inside Sator’s operation and attempt to stop his master plan to end the world using a think called the algorithm. And that’s as far as I go with the plot details.
The important thing to note here as that the rest of the plot twists and turns ever so slightly for about half the running time. Then, the halfway mark delivers the big reveal and it’s here where audiences need to pay close attention. Things get really confusing quite quickly. But they also get really fun! It is at this point where some audiences will dig deep into figuring out the story, others will turn their brains off to enjoy the action, and the more attentive viewers will try to consume it all. No matter how you approach it, ‘Tenet’ is the funnest and smartest roller coaster ride you are likely to experience this year. I could not possibly recommend it more.
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