In Brief: Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi flicks is a mess but it’s a glorious mess.
Movies involving time are messy. The backward and forward going ons of time travel are hard for a screenwriter to convey. What works in a writer’s head and what ends up on paper are often quite different. Executing that vision is even harder. Most of the time, it’s impossible.
In the terrific sci-fi flick, Looper Bruce Willis very clearly explained why you shouldn’t bother questioning how it all works. He said he could produce charts and graphs and go into a convoluted explanation. It would take hours to do and then you’d still not really understand. His conclusion is based on reality. And that reality is the fact that he and who he was as a young man were sitting together in a restaurant.
All that worked in Looper but it doesn’t in Tenet.
John David Washington plays a character called Protagonist. He’s been enlisted by a top-secret U.S. agency to stop an arms dealer who can reverse time. He has access to some sort of algorithm that can destroy the whole world and is — apparently — willing to do just that.
Protagonist gets help with his mission from the man’s wife and from a secret agent colleague. Their quest to stop the man is almost as complex as the explanation writer/director Christopher Nolan gives us for the time dilemma.
Washington’s co-stars of note are Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh. An action hero is a big step away from the kind of characters he did in BlacKkKlansman and The Old Man and the Gun. It might not be the best step. Washington is adequate in the role but it’s hard to buy him as a guy who can flat out flatten three seriously buff bad guys in a fight.
He also doesn’t strike me as cold-hearted enough to just blow someone away.
One of the film’s highlights is his Washington’s chemistry with Pattinson who has done a very good job of distancing himself from Twilight’s teen idol vampire, Edward Cullen. He’s actually a pretty good actor who shined in last year’s very dark The Lighthouse and in an action-thriller titled Good Time.
Pattinson is also the new Batman and is now filming the latest Batman movie. Do we need another Batman flick? Hasn’t there already been enough of them? Sorry, that’s a question for another day.
That said, Pattinson is very good as the Protagonist’s right-hand man.
Debicki (Widows, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) is also quite good as the villain’s miserable bride, Kat. All she wants to do is take their child and get away from him. At 6’3,” the lady is gorgeous and stands out visually but isn’t a standout actress.
That’s not her fault. Nolan’s screenplay has Kat as more of a cardboard cutout than a full-blown character. Part of that is deliberate. The other part is poor writing and character conception.
That leads us to Branagh. He starred in Nolan’s last movie, Dunkirk. While Branagh didn’t get much traction there, he does here. If there’s any reason to see Tenet, it is Branagh’s villainy.
He’s flat out rotten and chilling to the core.
Branagh is a great actor whose forte is Shakespeare. He plucks some characteristics of some of the Bard’s best baddies and inserts them into his character. It works and works very, very well. Most of Branagh’s work is in the film’s second half. Nolan should have used him more.
That leads us to Nolan’s film.
The movies I’ve reviewed since mid-March have been links sent to me by studios and I’ve watched the online on a computer or on a TV in my living room. An invite to see “Tenet” was a godsend.
A movie about time troubles and the warping of time, and that lasts 2:30 plus trailers and the usual commercial stuff that comes before the film begins needs a good explanation. First of all, the one provided by Nolan comes too late in Tenet. Second, when it arrives it’s the usual, hard to follow, time travel gobbledygook.
So why do I both love and not love Tenet. It’s trippy in places and has decent effects. Plus, the backward stuff is a blast and though sometimes it’s hard to understand what’s going on, Tenet works.
The negative is that Nolan’s film will blast you out of your seat when action sequences are in progress, yet the dialogue is often mumbled while characters wear hazmat masks or other masks that impede sound.
I’m not a critic who falls all over himself because a movie is a Christopher Nolan project. Some do. In fact, I’m one of the critics who received the death threats that caused the website Rotten Tomatoes to stop letting readers leave comments about a movie.
One of the films I received death threats about was Nolan’s Inception. It’s about corporate espionage in dreams. The movie is inventive and original but got so convoluted that it made me want to go to sleep and dream a different movie.
His other films are like that. Wonderful to watch but not all that good.
But here I am loving Tenet. Is it because I got to see a movie in a movie theater or because it’s really good? After a few days of pondering, it’s a question I just can’t answer and one that you — once you see “Tenet” — won’t be able to answer either.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Martin Donovan
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and violence. Tenet is a trippy movie that is good but never quite gets to really good territory. Still, if you — like me — are movie theater deprived, this is a great film to jump start your love of movies in theaters. Give Tenet a 3 1/2 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
You can’t see Tenet in Portland but several Vancouver theaters are open. Click here to find out where to see the movie.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.