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Tenet – A dangerous step backwards for Nolan ★★

Despite significant fan anticipation, Tenet is far from Christopher Nolan’s best work. Its failure to keep its mind-blowing promise of becoming the next fantastic blockbuster is best summarised by its convoluted plot and annoyingly muffled sounds. Tenet follows an unnamed protagonist (John David Washington) and his partner Neil (Robert Pattinson) who are charged with the mission of trying to prevent World War III which is being experienced through the time-inverted material and arms of Sator (Kenneth Branagh). The trajectory of time has been reversed and so The Protagonist must ascertain how to avoid this coming war when faced with objects including a time-inverted bullet that no longer flies forward, but back into the gun. If that’s already confused you, it might be best to steer clear of Tenet.

The film is essentially split into two halves. The protagonist goes through a series of events in the first half which are also explored in the second – but in reverse order. Confusing, I know. Essentially, this means you tend to see one scene from two different angles, one in forward time and the other in reverse. While I do not doubt that Nolan has meticulously thought through every precise moment and it has been edited to make perfect sense, there are times where I (and I imagine most viewers) do not follow. I trust Nolan and I trust that the two plot lines match up, but with only one viewing and no ability to pause, my head hurt trying to collate that much information.

Tenet is not short of action, loud explosions, and bonkers stunts, however, Nolan has armed himself with a sound mix that completely kills important pieces of dialogue that you have to pay attention to in order to follow. In most films, failing to hear a couple of lines is not detrimental, however, Nolan’s muffled exposition is a vital flaw. Mistakenly prioritising thrilling, loud action scenes over dialogue is the film’s downfall. 

Tenet, ultimately, raises more questions than answers, making the film quite in keeping with Nolan’s previous work. Looking back over Nolan’s repertoire: in Inception we wonder if the protagonist is still dreaming, and the cliffhanger in The Prestige leaves us contemplating what the truth may be. The questions that you come away with from these films tend to be philosophical and a good subject for debate and interpretation. The difference with Tenet, however, is that it gave us more mechanical questions about the logistics of time-inversion as opposed to those stimulating philosophical questions Nolan is known for prompting. As a result, you fail to muster any real/consequential emotional involvement because you spend so much time rattling your brain around the time-sequence of events. Not always making for an easy viewing experience.Nolan’s last film, Dunkirk took a completely opposite approach. Characters and complex plots were not prioritised, and Nolan presented us with a much more stripped-down narrative. While this experimental filmmaking worked, Nolan has driven us to the extreme in presenting a film which is such an ornate puzzle making it devoid of emotional depth. As such, out of all of Nolan’s films, this is probably his most forgettable.

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