“Tenet” Review: The Brain-Bending Magic of Cinema is Back

7 mins read
John David Washington as The Protagonist and Robert Pattinson as Neil.

Few names are more synonymous with modern cinema than Christopher Nolan. The acclaimed British auteur has amassed an enormous empire of epic studio action blockbusters with the craft of an arthouse film, focusing on the technical mastery of his craft and pushing the envelope of non-linear storytelling with a persistent obsession with time. “Memento” is told entirely in reverse, “Inception” follows the idea of layered dreams, “Dunkirk” has three stories happening simultaneously in different time frames that collide, and “Tenet” is the natural evolution of this persistent infatuation.

It is no secret that 2020 has been an absolute nightmare in every conceivable way. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, movie theaters shut their doors around their world. I, personally, have not seen a film in theaters in seven months, and coming back to see a new film, let alone a Christopher Nolan film shot in IMAX, felt like a reunion to my second home. I would absolutely not recommend going out into public to see this film if you are immunocompromised or in a place where cases are still escalating. I watched it in a vacant theater with a mask and gloves, and that is definitely the best possible way to view it currently.

This is a sprawling film with so much complexity and mindblowing concepts. The sheer weight of the philosophical and existential implications of this film is enough to put your brain out of commission. What makes it all work so incredibly well is just how meticulous the direction of Christopher Nolan is. Without any exaggeration, these are some of the most ambitious action sequences ever put to film. The level of painstaking coordination and choreography that goes into these scenes is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The fact that this film has less than 300 visual effects shots is utterly insane, given the final product. That is less visual effects shots than most romantic comedies.


Equally as impressive is the immaculate cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema. The sweeping wide vistas of inconceivably intricate set-pieces mixed with the wild, frenetic handheld camerawork creates for an unbelievable viewing experience. Shot on IMAX 70MM film cameras with Panavision Sphero 65 and Hasselblad lenses, as well as classic 70MM film stock with the Arriflex 765, Panavision Panaflex System 65 Studio, and Panavision 65 HR cameras with Panavision System 65 and Sphero 65 lenses. The film was finished at a true 4K digital intermediate, and it really shows in the final product.

Something that makes IMAX 70MM film so incredibly special is the fact that it is the single highest quality moving image that can be captured currently. With a rough translation of 18K resolution, the quality of the image is nearly eighteen times the image resolution of an HD TV. The unparalleled detail in every shot is mindboggling, and when combined with some of the greatest practical effects of all time, stunning production design, and gorgeous costume design, you get an absolute feast for the eyes.

Perhaps my favorite technical aspect of the film is the absolutely phenomenal musical score by Ludwig Göransson. This is the first soundtrack for a Nolan film not composed by Hans Zimmer in nearly two decades, and while I absolutely love Zimmer and every score he’s composed for Christopher Nolan, this is my favorite soundtrack for any Nolan film by a long shot. This is some absolute musical sorcery, with entire compositions playing in reverse, and the notes inverting on themselves. This is a prime example of the musical score telling the story, and every moment of music serves a purpose to the story. This is quite honestly one of the best musical scores for a big-budget action film ever.

ChristopherNolan-TenetMovie-2020There are some criticisms I have, none of which require to spoil anything. Despite having absolutely incredible sound editing, some of the sound mixing was not great. Nolan has a tendency to mix the music and sound effects above the dialogue track, and in certain sequences, it is hard to understand everything a character is saying. Luckily, it is nowhere near as big of a problem as it was with “Interstellar”, and there’s only three or four instances where it is distracting.

I also do wish that our main character had a bit more depth. While I understand why his character is written and why it makes sense for the story, I still wish there was something extra to his personal story. With that said, all of the performances were pretty fantastic. I especially enjoyed the performance of Elizabeth Debicki, and her character was definitely my favorite in terms of emotional connection. There are small conveniences and some cheesy lines of dialogue sprinkled throughout, but none of these small issues stop this film from being absolutely fantastic.

This is the best film I’ve seen in 2020 so far, and this is also my favorite Christopher Nolan film as of now. I had absolutely no clue where the story was going, I was enthralled throughout, and I was incredibly entertained. This is a masterfully made piece of cinema magic with enough questions to come back again and again for repeated viewings, and I can’t wait to see it again.

“Tenet” is now playing in theaters.

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