Tom Jay’s review published on Letterboxd:
Despite being heralded as the saviour of cinema, Nolan delivers this time something that is essentially a high end popcorn flick, especially when compared to his previous works that range from innovative to seminal.
For as novel as the execution was, I was all but willing myself to like it more than I actually did whilst in the screen, battling away with what I found to be many valid criticisms that seem to be shared by a general consensus. The editing is interesting, Lame’s first work with Nolan and in an odd sense, it felt she’s been scapegoated. It’s been claimed Tenet was one of the most difficult films to edit and after only a single viewing I don’t know where I really stand on that mater but I think she’s got no support from the plot itself. Considering the action it implements and the sheer amount of set pieces, nothing is ruined by this element of form and as such there’s nothing detracted from the film as a whole. The issue comes in forming its narrative overall, I’ve got plenty of issues with that itself but on the whole, there’s genuinely very little to provide a connection in any satisfying sense, it’s there when it matters and ultimately the climax and it’s other elements of spectacle make sense and were mostly compelling it just feels as if there’s a lot of excess and hot air and it takes up too large a portion of the running time.
The sound is an odd one, there’s certainly a lot of validity in the opinion that dialogue is drowned out but - and it is a big ask - if you’re willing to go with the pretentious ‘Just Feel It’ it again makes enough sense in its own to be compelling. The score in a general sense was indeed pretty solid and complimented the action sequences nicely, adding a layer of atmosphere but it did hit me at times as if it was a constant factor as to distract from what I ultimately found to be a pretty generic plot and average at best writing. There was more than one instance where it seemed key dialogue was being overshadowed and for as vexing as it was, if I’m willing to relent and accept its essentially Christopher Nolan’s big budget fantasies being enabled in what’s sort of a test of both audiences and what is capable of being caught on film, then it might just get a pass.
The narrative is my ultimate point for contention. I found both during and in the day after, to have a good grasp of it and largely clear understanding but something keeps plaguing my mind, the question - where have I seen this before? Looking at the concept generally, I don’t believe it’s as high concept as many have painted it as being, it makes a lot of sense and was quite basic when I laid it out with some thought. But onto the bigger question, the whole exploration of the Grandfather paradox, butterfly effect and the exploration of time as a whole is nothing new but I wholeheartedly believe that the heart of Tenet’s plot has been done, and I don’t mean elements of similarities but the concept as a whole and I can’t for the life of me, pin down the film or show where I’ve seen it. In a broader sense, I did mention in the editing how it was an uphill battle and nigh on impossible task but when it becomes a coherent and followable story over a gathering of scenes, it was a little predictable. I’ll refrain from spoilers but I could see from a far distance how a number of storylines would play out and whilst it was only subplots that rang as being a little generic, it’s the last thing you’d expect given who’s behind the film.
There was little wrong, generally, in a personal sense which seems contradictory to my rating, it’s generally sound in a lot of elements and demonstrates some high quality bursts of directing, acting and technicality but the bad sort of snowballs to the point where it really shackles how much you can find entertainment in it. The only other standout negative for me was Branagh’s performance, a man who’s never really struck me as a villain and going off this performance, there’s good reason as to why. Again, and like the editing it’s a coalition of a number of flaws that compound its poor standard but his character of Andrei Sator was little more than a few stereotypes mixed in with a handful of cliches from ‘How to write a bad guy 101’. Disappointing on screen and underused considering how significant he is to the plot, being the main catalyst and all, it was something I found a few laughs from which is far from the desired reaction.
I’m sure there’s a lot more I could tear apart but honestly I’ve forgotten a little since yesterday’s viewing so into the good! Starting with the viewing experience - though it’s not the truest IMAX screen here in Sheffield (as I’ve been reliably informed), it’s one of the more unique experiences I’ve had in the cinema period, as well as one of the better from 2020 which isn’t the greatest of feats all things considered. The screen benefits the contents massively and I felt myself largely immersed from the very opening with that breakneck opening sequence in the opera house, it was visually stunning and for as much as the sound was detrimental, forged a brilliant, chest thumping experience. I’ve found in the process of writing this, Tenet is literally a double edged sword, the good has many its own drawbacks and the reverse can be said too, something I think many people should have in their mind before viewing this and something I wish I had known beforehand. I find heralding Nolan and the like to be a little regressive as it’s clinging onto to these old fashioned values and images of the film industry in a modern age that’s vastly different, but the man can certainly make a film for the big screen, regardless of genre. With the stunning visuals, practical effects, well choreographed set pieces and decent directing overall, this is another he can be proud of even if it pales in comparison to his others. There needs to be praise for the latter half of the film, when it nears its closure the film is genuinely quite strong, it knows what it is by this point and is a good hybrid of science-fiction and spy/espionage type feel which did leave wanting films dedicated to those genres from the director who could really bring something of value to those areas of film. I’m saying little new here given that most the viewers have been stunned by the quality of the action as a whole so I’ll move to performance.
Again, whilst writing was poor as shown by the protagonist being named ‘The Protagonist’ which means there’s little in the room for characterisation, John David Washington once more shows his qualities as a leading man after both Blackkklansman and Monsters and Men. His image has perhaps softened since his collaboration with Spike Lee and here he seems seasoned, perhaps the Washington’s have an inherent knack for being highly skilled actors and JD is capable of being both the viewfinder and action hero, who’s capable of a lot of nuance. He’s genuinely charming and rose to the occasion but outside of him and his peers: Pattinson and Debicki, expect nothing more than cameos. Former Darling of the emos, Pattinson, continues his impressive career U-Turn and is set for a stellar couple of years. Again his character and performance is let down by the shallow writing, but he’s another capable action star and his arc is made the best it possibly could via his posh boy charms. Debicki is in possession of the most depth and emotional range. As an actor, she’s had plenty of impressive films under her belt but this is the first where she takes a lot of the load and I can confirm she doesn’t buckle. Whilst Washington and Pattinson have the chemistry that’s capable of leading and grounding these major sequences, Debicki’s Kat gives a good contrast to what’s majority, high-octane action and provides a bit of heart to the film as a whole with some well fleshed out drama.
With potential for a follow up if Nolan will indulge that idea, Tenet is something I’m conflicted upon. With some really high quality aspects and dare I say some interesting comparisons to Inception, the film was sadly bought down by many palpable form elements that seem extremely amateurish for a Nolan title. Something I can see growing on me with repeat viewings, Tenet was a unique cinematic experience but didn’t quite reach the heights of the directors other works and requires a lot more compromise for the sake of entertainment than anything Nolan’s made before.