Tenet Movie Review: Christopher Nolan’s Espionage Thriller that Manipulates Time

The Story: “Tenet” follows a CIA operative drawn into a “temporal cold war” between present and future forces, employing technology to reverse time’s flow. The narrative centers on preventing a cataclysmic explosion, entwining action, espionage, and metaphysical complexities in a race against time. While showcasing grand practical set-pieces, the film’s dialogue prioritizes mechanics over character, resulting in an often convoluted narrative. Nolan’s strengths, including classical storytelling, are overshadowed, leaving emotional depth sidelined. Despite cutting-edge technical aspects, “Tenet” stumbles in balancing its intellectual puzzles with resonant storytelling, ultimately reflecting a paradox of ambition and underdevelopment.

Tenet Review

The anticipation surrounding Warner Bros’ and director Christopher Nolan’s latest cinematic endeavor, “Tenet,” had woven a shroud of mystique over the silver screen for more than a year. The very title, a compelling palindrome, and the strategic utilization of reverse footage within their promotional materials all but whispered of Nolan’s signature mastery over the manipulation of time. Phrases like “reversing the flow of time” teasingly adorned trailers, igniting curiosity and spawning speculations. Audiences were left to ponder: what veiled enigmas would this cinematic opus, the most awaited blockbuster of 2020, unfurl before our entranced eyes?

In a fashion that’s equally frustrating as it is disillusioning, the answer reveals itself as a rather sobering “not many.” The mystique that had been meticulously cultivated, the air of enigma that had enveloped the film’s marketing campaign, now appears as an exercise in theatrical hubris and marketing finesse. Unveiled at its core, “Tenet” stands as a sci-fi action narrative of relative simplicity, centered around a CIA operative, portrayed by John David Washington, who finds himself drawn into the convoluted web of a “temporal cold war.” This clash extends between the present and an enigmatic future, propelled by technology capable of reversing the very course of time itself.

This premise, laid bare through a character’s exposition in the film’s nascent stages, remains remarkably consistent throughout the entirety of the 150-minute runtime. Sadly, while the characters continue to echo the central concept ceaselessly, the narrative barely scratches the surface of its potential depth. The overarching plot, centered on the imperative mission of thwarting an impending explosion, is shrouded in a veil of unnecessary complexity. This complexity, regrettably, comes at the cost of character development, narrative lucidity, and, ultimately, the viewer’s sense of gratification.

As the tapestry of “Tenet” unfolds, the intricacies of its temporal narrative are as intricate as they are convoluted. The film, while harnessing the raw potential to elicit profound character engagement and narrative clarity, foregoes these elements in favor of labyrinthine plot machinations. The result is an artifice of ambiguity, one that leaves the audience grappling for a foothold within the unfolding events.

In retrospect, the film appears to be a delicate balancing act, with Nolan aiming to preserve his celebrated approach to intricate storytelling while juxtaposing it against the viewer’s need for narrative clarity and character resonance. The intricate intricacies of the “temporal cold war” prove to be simultaneously the film’s bedrock and its bane, offering glimpses of brilliance yet obscuring them beneath layers of unnecessary convolution.

In the grand tapestry of “Tenet,” the grandeur of its concept mingles with the frustration of its execution, yielding a cinematic experience that’s as intellectually tantalizing as it is narratively elusive. While the film bears Nolan’s signature touches of audacious narrative ambition, it arguably overextends itself, sacrificing the very elements that would have elevated it from an exercise in cerebral intrigue to a truly immersive and satisfying cinematic journey.

Fortunately, within the intricate labyrinth of “Tenet,” one facet that remains reliably exhilarating is the grandeur of its action set-pieces. These sequences unfurl as audacious and captivating practical endeavors, each frame resonating with the palpable excitement of witnessing cinema’s time-honored tradition: the transition from the fluidity of an action movie to the raw allure of meticulously positioned, unmanned cameras capturing a particularly perilous stunt. These moments, rooted in a tangible reality, possess an inherent charm, pulling the audience into the heart of the spectacle.

Yet, even amid these visually striking episodes, a lingering sense of limitation pervades. The film showcases single acts of awe-inspiring spectacle, refraining from fully delving into the multitude of possibilities inherent within the core concept. Only a solitary sequence seamlessly translates the intricate mental choreography into a physical reality, giving rise to a blend of exhilaration and laughter that resonates long after its culmination. Regrettably, this peak remains an isolated island within a sea of underwhelming spectacles, leaving one yearning for the film to harness the potential of its foundational premise more extensively.

Nolan’s steadfast philosophical resistance to computer-generated effects might contribute to this constrained artistic scope, or it could be attributed to the film’s hurried production process, or even the arduous technical demands of the few reverse-time illusions that were effectively executed. In a less optimistic scenario, one might contemplate whether this dearth of imagination stands as the root cause.

From a technical perspective, “Tenet” traverses a perplexing dichotomy – it is both a paragon of cutting-edge innovation and an anomaly marked by uncharacteristic roughness. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography dutifully amplifies Nolan’s grand-scale directorial feats, yet it is robbed of the nuanced embellishments that adorned past ventures such as “Interstellar” or “Dunkirk.” This is, in part, due to the film’s breathless and often perplexing editing, which seems to surgically excise anything not immediately advancing the narrative. This peculiar editing strategy unwittingly dampens the film’s geographical scope, as characters traverse continents with the casual interchangeability of rooms within a dwelling, leaving us to wonder about the significance of these fleeting changes of scenery.

Ludwig Göransson’s score, albeit infused with cleverly reverse-engineered compositional tricks, occasionally eclipses dialogue through an audio mix that indulges Nolan’s distinctive predilection for garbing characters in masks and distortion filters. These stylistic choices collectively fuel the disorientation that ricochets throughout the audience, eliciting audible exclamations – a collective vocalization of our collective struggle to discern the unfolding enigma.

In summation, “Tenet” straddles a paradox – a film that intertwines cutting-edge technical artistry with uncharacteristic narrative ambiguity. It’s a tale of grand ambition that occasionally feels adrift, caught between the allure of pioneering spectacle and the nebulous grasp of its core narrative. Amidst its admirable endeavors to invoke the thrill of reverse chronology, the film leaves audiences grappling with a fundamental question: amidst the spectacle, the mystique, and the audacious ambition, what, truly, is transpiring?

The dialogue that weaves through “Tenet” mirrors a distinct preoccupation with mechanics over the nuances of character. Conversations unfold as dense, information-laden blocks, primarily composed of mission briefings that invariably precede the emergence of high-concept action sequences. The narrative, often retracing its steps to the locations of prior set-pieces, alludes to plot necessities while conveniently exploiting the reuse of costly assets. The pursuit centers around a MacGuffin, ingeniously fragmented into nine elusive pieces scattered across the global stage. Yet, the apex of humor arrives with an operation of military precision unfolding within an abandoned town, enacted by personnel divided into literal red and blue teams. And perhaps the most delightfully ironic aspect of all is the narrative’s flirtation with metaphysics, contributing to a sensation reminiscent of immersing oneself in a Hideo Kojima game – all the while missing the pivotal element of interactivity.

Throughout his career, Christopher Nolan has exhibited certain artistic idiosyncrasies, vulnerabilities in his storytelling arsenal that the sheer brilliance of his creations had previously overshadowed. The latter has yielded some of the most superlative mainstream works in the annals of contemporary cinema. However, critique has occasionally echoed, tinged with accusations of a lack of emotional depth or resonant character exploration, raised by critics unwilling to peer beyond the polished veneer of his cinematic worlds. Yet, with “Tenet,” a sense of self-awareness hovers – an almost uncanny mirroring of clichés and memes that have often accompanied Nolan’s distinctive style. The film appears as if it teeters on the edge of parody, the amplification of these very stylistic trademarks (cue the recurrent motif of suit tailoring, which unfurls in more than a single scene) lending the narrative a curiously mirrored dimension.

This amplification, however, comes at the cost of his robust, classically rooted storytelling. The foundation of emotion that lay, albeit subdued, beneath the surfaces of most of his prior work, becomes tangential and fleeting within the narrative scope of “Tenet.” It’s akin to a symphony stripped of its resonant crescendos, an intricate tapestry rendered monochromatic in its quest to elevate the cerebral conundrums it poses.

In retrospect, “Tenet” emerges as a dichotomy, where Nolan’s signature strengths face off against his artistic vulnerabilities. The scales, previously tipped in favor of his artistry, teeter precariously. In embracing the realm of a world driven by temporal intricacies and metaphysical mazes, Nolan inadvertently forsakes the human core that has quietly pulsed beneath the icy veneer of his cinematic creations. The result, far from an unmitigated failure, is a cinematic experience that poses as much contemplation as it does exasperation – an internal battle between a director’s well-established signatures and the subversion of his own storytelling prowess.

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The Story: "Tenet" follows a CIA operative drawn into a "temporal cold war" between present and future forces, employing technology to reverse time's flow. The narrative centers on preventing a cataclysmic explosion, entwining action, espionage, and metaphysical complexities in a race against time. While...Tenet Movie Review: Christopher Nolan's Espionage Thriller that Manipulates Time