‘Tenet’ Review: Movies Are Back

If you want to see this movie, and believe me, you want to see this movie, make sure you find the biggest screen available with the best sound system incorporated. Nolan and WB were not kidding when they insisted on putting this movie in theaters.


By this point, you probably already know: Tenet is Christopher Nolan’s latest contribution to cinema. It got its release date bumped a couple of times, but after the studio decided a non-traditional release, with international markets getting the movie first, and then most of the US, the movie is finally here, and people all over the world are finally enjoying it, making Nolan both very happy and extremely rich.


If you are someone who does not want to know anything at all about this movie, and perhaps haven’t even watched the trailer, do not worry. For now, I’ll be as generic as possible when describing everything I liked and perhaps some of the things that I didn’t love about it. But bear in mind this is a spoiler-free review. No plot details that haven’t been shown in the marketing will be addressed, and even the ones that have been featured in the trailers will have a minor warning first.


First of all, the performances in this movie are amazing. Nolan just made John David Washington a superstar. He acts, looks, and dresses like a boss in this movie. And yes, the costume designers did help a lot, but beyond that, his mannerisms are just perfect, and he understands exactly where his character is at in each scene. I know that sounds like a dumb statement, but hear me out – there are many scenes in this movie in which he has the full control of what is going on, and not only he conveys that, but he also makes the audience feel comfortable, like he can carry the mission, and also carry us through the mission. And even though there are other scenes in which he is not as in control (that’s what happens in every movie, no spoilers here), he still transmits a lot of confidence, and it is hard to pull off those two emotions at once.


Another big standout of this movie is Robert Pattinson, who plays the supporting role to Washington’s lead character. His presence is always welcome on the screen. By this time we already know he is a great actor, after watching him on movies like The Rover or last year’s The Lighthouse, but still, he pulls off the perfect supporting character here. I’ll sum it up like this – whenever he is with Washington’s character, we as an audience feel much safer and feel like Washington is much safer and will now be able to accomplish anything he wants. Pattinson is the guy who pushes him to the next level, while never overshadowing him.


Elizabeth Debicki also gives a good performance as the female lead (although she would technically be a supporting character), but her character at times felt a bit short-handed. Trying to stay spoiler-free here, I’ll just say that sometimes she wasn’t given the best lines from the script, and her character wasn’t always as fully realized as she could have been. Sometimes she came across as a bit of a caricature, even a plot device. But the big surprise (although it shouldn’t be) in terms of performance was Kenneth Brannagh. I don’t know if I can say who he is playing without giving the smallest plot detail away, so I’ll just say that he gave an amazing performance, even though by this point I don’t know why we should be surprised. I will come back to this later.


Before moving on to Nolan and some minor plot details to be a bit more specific on some of my points, I want to talk for a minute about some of the other big standouts to me. First of all, this movie is visually gorgeous, which should be no surprise, as it was shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema, who also was the cinematographer on Dunkirk and Interstellar. Also, the editing is really good in my opinion. Perhaps not on the level of Dunkirk, which was a movie that worked because of its editing, but it’s still amazing. This movie does rely a lot on its fast-paced editing, and Jennifer Lame (Marriage Story, Manchester by the Sea) did an outstanding job with the material she was given.


Finally, I want to say that Ludwig Göransson just became a master with this movie. We already knew he was good with his Creed score. We already knew the Academy knew he was good when they gave him an Oscar for his Black Panther score. We watched him grow and deliver us one of the greatest television themes of the past few years with his The Mandalorian score. But he went to another level with this one. I would summarize it by simply saying that the guy is a chameleon. Back in 2015, he composed a Creed score that was just perfect for the movie he had in his hands – it had to be an updated Rocky soundtrack that still felt like classic Rocky. He did it.


His Black Panther score had to take classic African sounds and adapt them into our century, our society, and the MCU’s sound. Not only he did it, but he won an Academy Award, and he also gave us an amazing Wakanda theme. Good luck with trying to tell me what a Rocky soundtrack has to do with a Black Panther soundtrack. But he didn’t stop there. After Black Panther, he took the classic Morricone themes from the old Westerns, mixed them with classic John Williams Star Wars music, and added a few Göransson’s flavors, to give us the masterful The Mandalorian score.


With Tenet, he took classic Hans Zimmer, which we can all agree is the perfect sound for a Nolan movie, and mixed it with his own personal sounds, so that the movie feels exactly like a Hans Zimmer score composed by Ludwig Göransson. It is both extremely atmospheric and ups the stakes of every single scene to the point that sometimes you can’t distinguish the sound design from the actual score, much like what Zimmer did with some of the tensest scenes in Dunkirk, and it also gives us a recurring theme for the movie. I know Zimmer also creates themes that he repeats throughout his movies, but he does it differently from Göransson. It’s hard to explain, so my point is basically that this score is basically Zimmer meets Göransson, which is exactly what it had to be.


When trying to describe Nolan’s writing and directing for this movie, we come across with the big elephant in the room, probably the biggest flaw, if we can call it that, of this movie. Basically, this movie is extremely difficult to understand. The movie lives and dies on a high-concept idea that is very Christopher Nolan-esque, and I can’t think of anyone who could have pulled this movie off. In case you don’t know it by this point, I won’t reveal it yet. I think of it as Interstellar meets Inception in a story that is ten times more difficult to understand.


Some people will complain that the movie is pretending to be much more intelligent than it actually is, which I don’t quite think is true, and some other people will complain because they literally could not understand one single scene from this movie. While Nolan has been criticized in the past for having way too many exposition scenes, I feel like this movie deserved a bit more exposition. I get why they didn’t add them, because the idea is easier to explain visually, through an action scene, than with an exposition scene where everybody is sitting around a table. And I think it mostly worked because, by the time the movie nears its end, you as an audience member are thrown into several scenes in which you have the chance to see it for yourself. Still, though, I needed a bit more, and with two or three more viewings (or twenty, who knows), I’ll probably get the full picture.


Also, I have to say, this movie has probably my favorite opening in any Christopher Nolan movie, other than The Dark Knight, of course. It was one of my favorite scenes from the movie.


(Here’s when we begin with some MINOR plot details. Still NO SPOILERS)


The high-concept idea is of course the time inversion we have seen in the trailers. And believe me, with those trailers you have seen nothing of what actually ends up happening in the movie. This movie is absolutely insane, it is crazy to me how someone came up with this idea and was able to write the script without going completely mad. And I say that grabbing my University degree in Physics, so I’m someone who can understand the laws of General Relativity.


Before I move on, I want to mention a couple of more flaws with this movie. First of all, there is a scene (again, minor details revealed, nothing big) in which Elizabeth Debicki’s character is sitting at a restaurant table with John David Washington’s character. Well, in this scene, there is a continuity error all throughout it that was driving me insane, especially because I’m someone who doesn’t really notice this kind of mistakes in movies. I don’t want to ruin it for you, because even if you have seen the movie and haven’t noticed it, it is something that will drive you mad if you know the next time you watch it.


Another thing is that the movie establishes a rule related to how time works and the “traveling” through it, which I think is broken in the end. I won’t give more details than that, but it did bother me a bit.


Going back to Kenneth Branagh and his role in this movie, you might already know that he plays the villain, the antagonist of the film. His role is also not the best-written one of the movie, and he sometimes feels a bit cartoonish, especially once you start to understand his motivations and what he exactly wants. However, his performance is amazing. He has much more screen time than I anticipated, and he is magnificent.


I have already seen some people complain that this movie is all theatrics, but doesn’t have a lot underneath. I wouldn’t go that far, even though I think I get where they are coming from. I think that the movie has a message about fate and where our lives are headed, but doesn’t articulate it very well and prefers to dedicate much more time to plot-related extravaganza. It also has another message that gets thrown out there once by Kenneth Branagh, which has to do with his villainous reasons, so I won’t give it away. I’ll just say that particular message seemed very bland to me, very cartoonish.


Overall, the movie is an amazing theater-watching experience. Nolan does an extraordinary job carrying us through his very-hard-to-convey high-concept pitch. This movie has some nail-biting scenes that actually turn out to be 10 to 20 minutes of the movie, and then you find out you have been on the edge of your seat for the entire 150-minute runtime. In my opinion, the editing, combined with the score and the amazing sound design, as well as Nolan’s very fast-paced directing style, make this movie a must-see theatrical experience.