Movie Review ‘Tenet’: Christopher Nolan Film Is Big, Bold, Bracing

Jack Cutmore-Scott, John David Washington, and Robert Pattinson in Tenet. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Back in the winter of 2012, I was invited to come to New York City’s Lincoln Square to see the first reel of Christopher Nolan’s new movie, The Dark Knight Rises, and to meet the director. I couldn’t believe they’d actually shown what they had to the public: I couldn’t understand a word Tom Hardy’s Bane had said through the mask. Not a single thing. Total blank. Was my hearing going? At the reception afterwards, everyone I talked to seemed to have the same problem. I talked to a honcho at IMAX about this and instead of directing me to the nearest audiologist he said something like, “Ah, but I promise you this. If you can’t understand a word Bane is saying, that’s exactly how Christopher Nolan wants it to be!” It was 5D chess, you see. Nolan is the master of cinema. No one can dispute anything he does. When the movie came out that summer, I noticed the sound mix had been cleaned up, although I was still unclear on a couple of things Bane said.

Seeing Tenet, I didn’t exactly have the slightest clue what the hell was going on: The IMAX sound boomed so boomingly that it drowned out much of the dialogue, some lines were mumbled, and then I missed about a 20-minute chunk of talk when a family member had a loud and distracting coughing fit (then had to be escorted to the restroom for another ten-minute break). As I said in my review, I enjoyed the spectacle and hoped to make sense of everything on a subsequent viewing. I suspected that something had happened while I was out of the loop that would have clarified matters.

Looking at some friends’ takes, though, I note that others are just as in the dark as I am. John Podhoretz ripped the movie to shreds and says, of the lady arms dealer in Mumbai who provides an early chunk of exposition that I mostly missed, “You thought Tom Hardy’s Bane was hard to understand in The Dark Knight Rises? He was like Olivier enunciating Hamlet compared with the Indian lady.” John suggests he may need ten viewings to sort it out. David French says exactly the same thing (but also that he “loved it” because David loves all movies). Now Jack Butler says, “Characters’ motivations are uncertain, the dialogue is unclear (sometimes literally hard to hear, at least in my showing), and the plot seems to be something of an afterthought.”

So now that everyone is confessing to confusion, I don’t feel so bad, though I look forward to seeing Tenet again without someone coughing in my right ear for 20 minutes.

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