Review: Tenet (2020)

Director/Screenwriter: Christopher Nolan
Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia
Genres: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references, and brief strong language
Release Date: 9/3/20
Where to Watch: Theaters (Wide)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Runtime: 2 hours, 30 minutes


Tenet is a very difficult movie to review, perhaps because it’s so darn confusing. It’s the kind of film, like writer/director Christopher Nolan’s previous ones, needs to be viewed multiple times in order to at least have a basic grasp of what is transpiring. His latest, which was the first film I saw in theaters after Regal Cinemas [temporarily] reopened, is his most confounding one yet — in fact, the only one who is 100% sure of what is going on is, more than likely, Nolan himself. You can use Google to find some explanations/rundowns, or you can try to piece it together yourself. I have seen it twice [so far[, once by myself and then again with my family, and while I definitely understood more the second time than I had previously, there was still a great deal that went over my head (and I’m no movie dummy, I’d like to think). 

The funny thing is, I first saw Tenet at a special early access showing, which meant that there were no trailers or ads, so the move started immediately. I didn’t realize right away that this was the case; and, honestly, I spent the first 20 or so minutes in a haze. Though, to be honest, this is the kind of film that causes a significant amount of muddiness throughout its duration. That’s not to say I was unimpressed with the action and set pieces, and with the quality of the filmmaking itself. Nolan has long been one of the best directors of our time, although I can’t yet say if this one ranks among his best.

I will say, however, that the film is far from perfect. In fact, I wonder if Nolan and co. rushed to have it completed in time to have it shown in theaters across the country (theaters that have now closed yet again). While the film editing, cinematography, and score are top-notch, the sound editing isn’t quite there. In fact, there are a number of instances in which the exposition-heavy dialogue gets lost in the loud music or sound effects. This certainly makes the film more difficult to comprehend. Nolan tends to rely heavily on verbal exposition (see Inception), and this film is no exception in that regard.  

A movie doesn’t need to be completely coherent in order to be enjoyed, as I found myself entertained and mostly enthralled by the events that transpired in Tenet, despite being extraordinarily puzzled. Despite being 2.5 hours long, the film is rarely boring, even in the smaller, quieter moments. Although, I wouldn’t have minded if some of the two-person scenes had been trimmed a bit, especially when it comes to exposition.

Thankfully, the movie is well-cast, and it is wonderful to see John David Washington (Denzel’s son) put to good use, as he was terrific in BlacKkKlansman. His bonafide leading actor skills are on display here, and he is fully up to the challenge of anchoring this puzzling sci-fi epic. His character is simply named “The Protagonist,” and whenever someone else asks for his name he slyly finds a way around it. Then there’s Elizabeth Debicki as the perpetually sad, sometimes angry British housewife who spends way too much time lamenting about her son. (On that note, fellow film critics are rightly pointed out the cringworthy line “including by son” uttered by Debicki). Debicki, who wowed in Widows, is solid here, although she doesn’t really come into her own as a character until the end. I’m excited to see the lanky (she’s 6’3″ and stick thin) Debicki in other roles that embrace her natural acting talents. 

And, let’s not forget the ever-useful Kenneth Branagh, who is brilliantly deranged as Debicki’s evil husband. Even his Russian accent is on point, and I can imagine that there wasn’t a lot of acting involved when he was threatening someone or looking at them menacingly. Also, Robert Pattinson is solid, and he and Washington have great chemistry together, even if the scenes that are exposition-heavy.

Grade: B+