Nolan's Reach Exceeds His Grasp with Ambitious, Inconsistent TENET

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Tenet on Blu-ray

Christopher Nolan's TENET is nothing if not ambitious in its attempt to reconcile conflicting flows of causality. The concept of two physical objects existing in the same space but inverted in time, such that bullets fly out of walls and into guns, makes for some challenging camera work and a few "ooh" and "ah" moments with the audience.

But after going out of your way to explain how everything operates in the "Looking Glass Land" of the film, we start to pay attention and see that it really only operates that way whenever the director wants to pull off an effect. "Wear a full body SCUBA suit with your own oxygen because your inverted lungs won't be able to process the air -- but put on swimming attire and impersonate yourself on the deck of a boat when necessary." The conflicts simply become too numerous and too blatant, and eventually the audience is pulled from the idea of this being an effect-driven movie and begins to pay attention to the plot -- and finding none.

John David Washington portrays The Protagonist. That's the character's credited name, and he even refers to himself twice in the film by the moniker. He's a special operative who is recruited into a clandestine agency called Tenet by Michael Caine to seek out someone who can lead him to someone else who's planning to destroy the world with help from the future. That someone else is a Russian named Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who has a beautiful-but-abused wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), whom The Protagonist falls for and for whom he continually returns despite the risks it presents to his mission.

Along the way, The Protagonist gets assistance and veiled, vague instructions from the likes of characters played by Dimple Kapadia and Robert Pattinson, who make it clear that it's not good for The Protagonist to know too much about the future -- which immediately sets off my alarms telling me The Protagonist has an importand and pivotal role to play later down the time stream, and therefore has to make it there. And the film being what it is -- playing out forward and backward, with all causality removed and logic borrowed from BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE -- one doesn't have to think too hard to figure out what the future role is.

It's ambitious. It's audacious. It's certainly stylish. But ultimately, TENET is a film where Nolan's reach exceeds his grasp -- a high concept that simply isn't fully, or even satisfactually, realized.

Grade: 
3.0 / 5.0