The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.
“Tenet,” written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, is one of the rare films to get a big release in theaters when it came out in early September during the COVID pandemic. While watching it on Blu-ray was an enjoyable experience, I can only imagine what it was like to see it on IMAX. It probably enhanced the experience quite a bit for moviegoers. That being said, I’ve always subscribed to the idea that a good movie is good on any platform be it Blu-ray, 4K or the big screen. I understand why this was released on the big screen, though, as it is a big screen movie with big ambitions. Nolan has always been a filmmaker with a specific vision, and he likes to give his audience a lot to chew on when they watch his films. He also likes to let them come up with their own interpretations of them as well.
“Tenet” is a film I watched for the most part on my own with my wife checking in with me near the end of it. She asked me what was happening and if I liked the movie. While the idea of trying to explain the film to her was daunting, and I was still processing the film as it was happening, I realized Nolan had me exactly where he wanted me. Even though “Tenet” has a running time of two hours and thirty minutes, it’s pretty damn exciting when you take in all that is happening on the screen, the details, both big and little. As far as trying to describe the plot and what happens to her or to anyone reading this review, I will do my best without spoiling the film or making it sound too convoluted.
John David Washington, who has quickly turned into one of our finest working actors today, is simply known as Protagonist. He is a secret agent who is put through a number of grueling tasks in order to see if he’s up for the task of trying to stop World War III through influencing time. We don’t know much about him, his backstory, or why he’s decided to take on this mission in the first place. Washington, however, comes across as calm, cool and collected in each and every scene, whether he’s negotiating or in battle. His natural charisma is evident throughout.
He’s part of an organization called Tenet, and this is a word which comes up a lot in the film as it is “inverted” and deals with the concept of moving backwards in time. This is put on display a number of times with simply stunning visuals which will leave your jaw hanging on the floor. If you are looking for an emotional core, it comes in the form of Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) and her working relationship with the Protagonist. While we clearly root for and spend a great deal of time with the Protagonist, Kat’s story is the emotional core of the film. There is also great work here from Kenneth Branagh as the villain. He’s very easy to dislike, and his performance is menacing and a little over-the-top, but it works in the world of this film.
The world of the film created by Nolan is not always easy to follow. There were times where I was lost even as Robert Pattinson’s character was explaining things to me with his Master’s degree in physics. I understand Nolan wants to keep us guessing and to question what is happening. I also know there are a ton of fan theories out there. It is always a good thing when a film can create discussion and debate among movie buffs. As a hardcore movie lover myself, I’m always looking to talk shop with individuals that look at movies as more than just movies. They live, breathe and sleep with the movie long after the credits have rolled. With “Tenet,” it is a film I look forward to revisiting a few more times to fully grasp and comprehend all it is about.
Let’s focus on the positives, first. Even though the film was not scored by Nolan’s usual composer, Hans Zimmer, the use of sound and music to enhance the movie is truly awe-inspiring. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even realize Zimmer didn’t compose the score until I saw the name Ludwig Göransson in the end credits. This is not to discredit the fantastic work by Göransson, it is just to say it is clear there is a certain style of sound and music Nolan is looking for with his movies, and he picked a great composer with a very impressive resume. I talked about the performances earlier, and they are universally good across the board with the standouts being Washington and Debicki. A few Nolan favorites pop up as well in cameos. Visually, Nolan takes his work to a whole new level with “Tenet.” It is a big screen movie all the way.
As far as the negatives, even though it is a good movie and doesn’t feel like two hours and thirty minutes, I don’t know if it necessarily had to be this long. I think they could have shaved fifteen to twenty minutes, and it wouldn’t have harmed the overall film. We all know Nolan likes to do everything big with his movies from the sound to the visual effects to the running time, but sometimes things can be scaled back a little bit. Another issue with the film is the fact it can be a little cold and distant at times. His films would be even more powerful with all of the sound and fury if they came with a bit more emotion, heart and more fleshed out characters. If you have great actors, you should use them more within the framework instead of letting the plot take center stage.
In the end, there is quite a bit to like about “Tenet.” I’m going to recommend you buy the film, and I know it will be one I’ll be watching a few more times in the future. However, my favorite Nolan film is still “Insomnia.” As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Nolan sometimes completely abandons character development and the heart of his films which can sometimes leave me feeling like I’m watching robots in the story. He also needs to understand that sometimes less is more. While I don’t necessarily see him changing his ways, there is always the hope of him evolving with his next project. “Tenet” is a good yet flawed flick.
* * * out of * * * *
Blu-Ray Info: “Tenet” is released on a three-disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Combo Pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. One disc is the Blu-ray, another disc is the Blu-ray special features, and the final disc is a DVD version of the film. The film has a running time of 151 minutes. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language.
Video Info: “Tenet” is shown on 1080p High-Definition 16×9 Variable 2.2:1 and 1.78:1 (IMAX sequences). The film is gorgeous looking with a transfer that is impossible to beat! I couldn’t take my eyes off the visuals of this film.
Audio Info: The Blu-ray comes on the following audio tracks: DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, English Descriptive Audio and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, Spanish and French.
Looking at the World in A New Way: The Making of Tenet: This special feature is broken up into thirteen featurettes which go into great detail on the filmmaking process. This is why I love physical media. It is for the special features and the amount of behind the scenes details we get here. This special feature is over an hour long!
Should You Buy It?
Considering the fact that you are going to want to watch this film a few times and that it is directed by Christopher Nolan, I think this is most certainly a film worth adding to your collection. There is also the fact it comes with over an hour of special features on a separate disc. There was a lot of time, thought and effort put into this film as well as its Blu-ray release. While this is far from a perfect film, there is enough really good stuff in here to make it a wise investment. As I’ve said a few times in this review now, I want to watch it again and piece together even more of this elaborate puzzle.
**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-Ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free. The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.