TenetReviewed By Jack Sommersby
Posted 09/05/20 08:47:01
You can clearly see where its $200 million budget went, but it's hard to care.John David Washington, son of his famous actor father Denzel and star of the latest big-budget extravaganza from writer/director Christopher Nolan, Tenet, is something of a curious case. He has no discernible ability to speak of, he tries for a smoldering intensity that's lukewarm at best, and he's not particularly comfortable with delivering dialogue (he mistakes pregnant pauses with "depth"); on the other hand, when he swings into action and runs in pure action-hero fashion he's admittedly interesting to watch (from the press notes we learn he was a former college halfback), and you lay in wait hoping he's going to surprise you. Because he's in almost every scene in this two-and-a-half-hour cinematic endeavor, his overall viability is even more important, and he just doesn't cut - it were as if an understudy had been thrown in at the last minute due to the real leading man having developed a case of food poisoning. It's not that Washington doesn't give it his all, it's just that his all simply isn't good enough. Because of his laid-back delivery and low-wattage charisma, he makes the running time of Tenet feel every single minute of it despite all the car chases, explosions, gunfire and fight scenes - we need an actor with both alacrity and intensity; Washington is on his own indulgent somnolent wavelength throughout, and time and time again we feel his man-with-no-name CIA hero character isn't taking the dire life-and-death situations he finds himself in while trying to save the fate of all mankind seriously enough. (Oddly, even though he's five-feet-nine, he looks much smaller on the silver screen, sometimes downright diminutive. He could be Kevin Hart's younger brother.) Of course, if the movie weren't such a wildly conceptual mess we could be somewhat more forgiving of Washington's mediocrity, but by placing him front and center Nolan presents us with the ultimate double negative: we couldn't give a damn about either its hero or the conflicts he finds himself entangled in. Denzel Washington, usually a functional but superficial actor, managed to make us believe in the fascinating time-warping elements in Tony Scott's extraordinary 2006 Deja Vu whereas his son doesn't seem committed enough - his overly-contemplative performance is more suited to a stage production of one of those insufferable evasive plays by Harold Pinter
Christopher Nolan gave us the mind-bending Inception, and Tenet too is heavily reliant on screwing with the perception of time and enough out-there wacky physics to confound even the creme-de-la-creme of MIT students. The movie's title refers to a secret world organization dedicated to preventing global catastrophies, with the one here an inimical device that causes inversion, which boils down to a person moving backwards in space while other people move in the opposite direction. The dastardly fiend behind this is a Russian billionaire oligarch who's decided to end the world because of his terminal pancreatic cancer - if he's going to go out, he wants to with an earth-shattering BOOM! (I'm still trying to figure out how this could possibly end everything as we know it.) Unfortunately, like Inception and his equally odious Memento, Tenet is more complicated than complex, and by its one-hour mark I gave up on it and spent the remaining ninety minutes on autopilot. Nolan is so quintessentially dedicated to fanciness that he forgets to sit back and tell an actual story; he deprives this jerking-off of both gravitas and narrative immediacy in his almighty quest to wow us with sensationalism over coherence. I wish Nolan would go back to simpler stuff, like his outstanding Insomnia remake and fine feature-film debut Following where he relied on genuine storytelling instinct and lovingly shaped his sequences (he helped Al Pacino contribute his very best work, and that 1988 oddity was involving without going sententiously artsy on us solely to make an impression); he's gotten too fancy-pants in his specious desire to bludgeon us with all this sensory-pounding nothingness - you simply can't imagine him tactfully cranking out a screenplay with an audience's pleasure in mind. Granted, Tenet, largely thanks to the superlative cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, is gorgeous to look at, and a few of the action set-pieces have been staged with aplomb, though one feels Nolan could do this kind of thing in his sleep by now. But it's practically all for naught because it's at the service of material that's forever half-baked and hermetic. (It's only a movie a mother could possibly love.) Like the earnest but miscast Washington, Tenet is all surface value.Skip it.
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