New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: TENET

Confusion reigns in this mess of a movie. It’s so hard to follow, we almost wished we could rewind scenes, as Christopher Nolan’s plot does, to try to understand it. Still, it was exciting to see our first big action flick in a theater since March, safely, with only a handful of other audience members.

The sound design of this film is opressively loud. If you go to see it in a theater, take ear plugs. But know that might make it almost impossible to hear the details of Nolan’s time travel premise. The actors are often drowned out by the ear shattering score speaking mumblecore. The actors seem to be mumbling through their lines. We had to strain to hear what might be explanations.  And every time you’re about to get an action scene, the volume ramps up to new heights. 

John David Washington (Blackklansman) has already proved himself a great actor, but he might not have been the best choice for this role. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t meet the challenges of the action scenes, but that his personable and engaging personality didn’t ring true for the strikingly hard persona he is portraying as The Protagonist. Nolan doesn’t even give his character a name. 

His character ends up trying to protect the wife of a Russian oligarch. Kenneth Branagh is all too convincing as controlling rich, Russian villain, Andrei Sator, who is trying to procure a new power to destroy the world. His broad character machinations are spot on. And He also wants to destroy his wife, Kat, played stoically by the lithe Elizabeth Debecki (Widows, The Burnt Orange Heresy). All she wants is custody of their son and to get him away from her tyrant of a husband. It seems pretty standard and without much emotion. There’s practically no tie nor friendship, let alone romance, between The Protagonist, (Washington) and Kat. This thin emotional plot line leaves you wondering why he felt compelled to get so involved in the first place to save her.

Robert Pattinson saves the day with his more aloof, let’s not take this too seriously, demeanor. Even his suits are more relaxed than Washington’s. It always looked as if Washington was trying to be something he was not. At times, with all the bells, whistles, gadgets and fancy locales, this film looks a bit James Bond-ish. But even with the lush locations, the characters are definitely not as slick. Pattinson comes close and provides a little relief. 

Nice to see Michael Caine looking so well, but he’s in there for a minute. But also nice to see Dimple Kapadia as Prya, the female mastermind behind the time-bending new technology. 

It looks like the trappings and action scenes try to make up for what’s lacking in the story. The scene where Washington and Pattison bungee up a building is impressive parkour. So is Washington using every chef’s tool in sight battling several men through a high-end hotel restaurant kitchen. The big rotating cylinders that take the characters backwards and forwards through time are curious objects, but ill explained. And the use of a runaway plane plowing into a building for distraction is definitely explosive. There are plenty of explosions throughout along with cars and broken glass flying along with the bodies. Though, thankfully, not that much blood. 

The big chase scene with cars going forward and in reverse at break speed is exciting, but not heart-pounding, and the stunts with people jumping between cars is  so unreal, you almost expect it. 

In the final scenes, in some remote place, we are never told what it is or where. It’s jam-packed with men covered in black combat gear in a supreme battle. But it’s hard to know who’s who. It’s just all very confusing. Scientific terms, especially the word, “algorithm,” are bandied about without much explanation and the visuals go by so fast that it’s hard to decipher what it all means. Playing with time travel so that you can leave seeds from the future in the present is an interesting premise, but it gets lost here. 

Does this film look like it cost $250 million to make? Yes. But the story is structurally convoluted. Just like the palindrome title of the movie, it goes back and forth the same way. You might want to wait until Tenet is streaming so you can play it forward and in reverse to figure out what Nolan was really going for. And you’ll be able to control the volume. 

Warner Bros.      2 hours 30 minutes                PG-13

In theaters only

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