“Don’t try to understand it”: Tenet movie review

Director Christopher Nolan released his newest film, “Tenet”, on Sept. 3. Does it live up to the hype?

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(Photo courtesy of IMDB)

Thomas Cathey, Managing Editor

Nearly two months after its original scheduled release date, director Christopher Nolan’s newest project, “Tenet”, has finally hit select theaters around the world. Officially released in the U.S. (in some states) on Sept. 3, “Tenet” has grossed over $250 million worldwide so far and currently stands at a 72% rating on the widely-used film review platform Rotten Tomatoes.

In March, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shut down almost all cinemas across the globe, with the exception of some drive-in theaters. As a result, the release of “Tenet” was pushed back numerous times over the course of a few months. In early September though, theaters in California began to reopen, which allowed for the state’s moviegoers to finally lay their eyes on the film.

Early opinions of the movie might suggest that it wasn’t as good as anticipated, but “Tenet” may go down as one of those films that get better with time and at least a second or third watch. 

“Tenet” follows an unnamed character known as “The Protagonist” (played by John David Washington), as he is recruited by a secret organization in order to stop an arms dealer equipped with time-bending technology that can end humanity. Along the way, “The Protagonist” teams up with Neil (played by Robert Pattinson), who is also a part of the secret organization , as they take a confusing journey through the past, present and future. 

Many viewers will remember Christopher Nolan for directing the critically-acclaimed “Dark Knight” trilogy, but the award-winning filmmaker is otherwise known for making stand-alone, thought-provoking movies that may require multiple viewings for the best experience. Similar to his earlier films like “Memento” and “Inception”, Nolan continues his fascination with the concept of time in “Tenet”. However, the plots of “Inception” and “Memento” don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the complexity of “Tenet”.

It is likely that any viewer watching this film will leave the theater without any idea of what they just witnessed. So, like many other films involving time travel, the plot points in “Tenet” can be excruciatingly difficult to follow, which is probably the main contributor to the film’s lukewarm Rotten Tomatoes score. Obviously though, the perplexity of the movie’s storyline is by design, and the film should be enhanced by multiple viewings.

With a budget of $205 million, Nolan has still managed to impressively limit the use of digitally-rendered effects, instead opting for more in-camera stunt work and practical effects. There are plenty of satisfying action scenes throughout, with exhilarating car chases, and fight sequences which have one character moving forward through time fighting another character moving backward through time. 

John David Washington (son of film icon Denzel Washington) carries most of the film’s screen time as “The Protagonist,” and brings a James Bond-esque swagger to the nameless character, often donning numerous lavish outfits while being physically superior to most of the foes he encounters throughout the movie. 

Both Washington and Pattinson work very well together here as these characters, which is important since their relationship is a critical part of the film. The main antagonist of “Tenet,” Sator (played by Kenneth Branagh), is exceptionally menacing, and Sator’s estranged wife, Kat (played by Elizabeth Debicki), probably possesses the most emotionally impactful role, without going into too much detail of course. 

On the whole, “Tenet” is just as much of an impressive spectacle as it is confusing, but ambitious screenplays like this are few and far between in Hollywood today. While it might be far from Nolan’s best work, this film is a refreshing take on cinema during one of its lowest points.