Tenet (2020)

I’ve seen quite a few films since the cinemas reopened, some good, some very very bad, but this is the first “cinema” film. The first film where I felt it needed to be seen on a big screen to be appreciated.

I feel Nolan is aiming his films squarely at cinema use now, which I really appreciate. I love how his films are ambitious and full of spectacle, with jaw-dropping practical effects (in this one he actually crashed a plane). On the downside I think his characters tend to feel a little flat. With the exception of the main characters, nobody in his films tend to stand out as particularly well written. That’s definitely also the case in this one, the main character is literally called The Protagonist. It’s weird as it’s got a lot of big actors in it, but they barely do anything. There are a lot of actors in this film who are not really needed. Michael Caine, for example, is in a single scene which could be cut entirely from the film and it wouldn’t effect the plot. It would effect the enjoyment of the film though as it would take away from the excessive runtime. It’s two and a half hours and you feel every moment.

Make no mistake, this is a BIG film, and you will be amazed, but you will also be slightly frustrated. Not so much at the plot which isn’t anywhere near as clever as it thinks it is, not so much at the complete lack of character development, and not even at the handwaving of the science integral to the plot (seriously they just say “don’t try to understand it), but you will be frustrated by the audio. It sounds like they’ve just made a song go backwards, I don’t know if they actually did that or not but that’s the definite intention they meant. Now in Inception they slowed down Non, je ne regrette rien until it was unrecognisable, and that worked. But melodies don’t always work backwards, they’re jarring and uncomfortable to listen to, so if you have your entire soundtrack be like that it’s just kind of annoying. Also, the sound mixing is atrocious so a lot of the time dialogue is impossible to understand. I wasn’t going to mention this at first as I thought there’s a chance it might have just been an issue with the cinema I saw it in, but then I saw other reviews mention it. So either every cinema in the country has got it wrong, or there is an actual problem. Supporting the “it’s an issue with the film, not the cinema” theory is a post from sound designer Richard King who has worked with Nolan on seven films (including this one). He said:

“He wants to grab the audience by the lapels and pull them toward the screen, and not allow the watching of his films to be a passive experience.”

Far be from me to criticise Nolan, but what the fuck is he thinking? I know they did something similar in The Wire, where they had characters use a lot of slang and didn’t explain it, so that people would have to pay attention to it. But that’s done realistically, people do speak in slang, and they don’t often understand it. Watching a film where they intentionally muffle the dialogue is not the same. If reality was like that then 50% of conversations would consist of the words “sorry, can you repeat that?” It doesn’t make you lean in to the film, if anything it frustrates you so you lean out. You don’t make a film entirely in shadows “so the audience has to really focus with their eyes and get drawn in”, no, you make shit that people can actually see (I understand darkness is an effective tool in film, I’m not talking about singular scenes and motives, I’m talking about in general).

None of that can compare to my biggest issue with the film: I just didn’t give a shit. I didn’t care about the characters, I didn’t care about the plot, I just did not care at all. I was completely passive when viewing it.

I get I may be one of the few people who didn’t love this film (and after the response to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I know my viewpoints don’t always match the general public), but I did like it. The performances were good, visually it was superb, it had a great concept, and the fight choreography was incredibly unique. The plot….I feel if I watched it a second time I’d notice lots of foreshadowing and realise how intelligent a lot of that is, I love when films do that. The only issue: I don’t particularly want to watch this film again. I don’t want to spend another 3 hours in a cinema, and I don’t want to watch this at home. It just…..it did absolutely nothing for me. I felt the same way about Interstellar to be honest, and Dunkirk. I sat there thinking “this is an absolute masterclass in film-making that I will never ever have the desire to watch again”.

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