I write this on the day of our 48th wedding anniversary. Back on our honeymoon in 1973, when I still a film major, we made a point of going to the movies, and that ended up being a tradition: go away for our anniversary, watch a movie while we were vacationing. The beginning was inauspicious, Hitler: The Last Ten Days with Alec Guinness as the dictator. Over the years we've seen more than a few turkeys, probably because the kinds of movies in the theaters on Memorial Day weekend were, well, turkeys. I remember we did see The Road Warrior.
Geezer Cinema comes on Tuesdays, so our anniversary was a day early this year. It was my wife's turn to choose, and she picked Tenet. She is known to pick action films ... 22 of her 48 Geezer picks fall into the rough category of "Action" (I've only picked 4). This being a Christopher Nolan film, though, it was an arty action film, unlike, say, Angel Has Fallen.
If you asked me what I think of Christopher Nolan movies, I'd probably respond with some smart-ass comment about how I wasn't much for obscure films, arty, action-packed, or whatever. But when I checked, I found that Tenet is the 8th Nolan movie I've seen, and there isn't a bad movie in the lot. The Dark Knight and Dunkirk were a lot more than that, and even The Prestige, which I remembered as a film I didn't like, turned out to get a reasonably positive review from me.
So, Tenet. I feel like I should apologize for seeing it on my TV ... it's clearly meant for something like IMAX. It won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, and they are pretty impressive, even before you learn how much they avoided CGI and green screens. More important, many of those effects serve the story, visualizing what the plot has tried to establish. A lot of those effects are confusing, but less so than the talky script that tries to explain it all. Watching parallel time universes, one going forward and one backwards, almost makes sense when you see it on the screen. (Almost.) (Also, I don't really know if "parallel time universes" is an accurate description ... no one who watches Tenet actually knows what is going on.)
How obscure is Tenet? Just look at the titles of some of the video essays about the film on YouTube: "Tenet Explained: The Biggest WTF Questions." "TENET Explained: What Really Happened to Neil at the End." "TENET EXPLAINED: Time Inversion, Entropy, and More!" "TENET - Nolan Has an Exposition Problem." And my personal favorite, "Why You Can't Hear the Dialogue in Tenet". The latter is fascinating in part because a friend who had just seen the film told us we'd want to turn on captioning, which I assumed meant everyone would have British accents, since that often throws me off. Instead, the captions are useful because you can't hear anyone talking.
I seem to be talking about everything except whether I liked the film or not. Sure ... the actions scenes were inventive, and it was rarely boring despite running for 2 1/2 hours. A favorite of mine, Elizabeth Debicki, was the female lead. Debicki is a walking special effect ... for instance, the IMDB trivia page tells us:
Upon finding out that Elizabeth Debicki (who plays Kat) had been cast, costume designer Jeffrey Kurland immediately suggested to Christopher Nolan that they take advantage of her height, because "she's never gonna be shorter than anybody onscreen." Kurland put the already six-foot-three actress in heels for many of her scenes, gave her longer skirts so you could see the length of her legs, and cut her suits to enforce her linear quality.
Tenet may answer the question, what if Christopher Nolan made a James Bond movie? But while the action is fun to watch, there isn't enough of it, and there really isn't anything fun about the movie making no sense, much less that you can't hear anyone talk. Tenet is the kind of movie you'd need to see twice to even begin to understand it, but once was enough for me. #957 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.