Tenet Review and the Return of the Drive-In Movie

Amid a summer of delayed movie screenings, cancelled premiers and straight-to-digital releases, one film stayed committed to a wide release in theaters — Christopher Nolan’s latest IMAX extravaganza, “Tenet.” Nolan established his style early in his career, filming all his movies from “Dark Knight” to “Inception” and “Dunkirk” on the visually stunning IMAX and 70mm film stock format, and showing the films on massive screens with surround sound. 

“Tenet” continues this tradition, with stunning action filmed in epic wide-shots, ear blistering sound design and a plot centered around bending time so convoluted that it must be a Christopher Nolan film. Unfortunately, it is Nolan’s predictable style of intricate timelines and subverted expectations that became a detriment to this film. The time travel elements of the film are so complicated and elaborate that it detracts from the plot and hurts the narrative hidden among the visual theatrics.

The film works with characters and scenes moving forwards and backwards in time simultaneously, only stopping momentarily to allow the characters to talk and provide exposition. While the audience tries to make heads or tails of what they just consumed visually, the dialogue provides no help in understanding the narrative due to its poor sound mixing. All the characters are drowned out and muffled by harrowing background noise and rapid conversation. So, when the movie does slow down to explain things, you have no idea what anyone is saying. 

While this movie begs to be viewed a second time to understand and put together the interweaving timelines, I also need to watch it again with subtitles so I might have any idea of what is going on. The film builds upon this incomprehensible dialogue and reality-defying plot to an action-packed finale, where our heroes are shooting in all directions at faceless enemies until my eyes glaze over because amid the mindless action, I have no idea what the stakes, motivations or plans are for our characters.

While visually stunning, the film is almost spoiled by this indecipherable narrative. It’s a shame, because the visual effects involved are astounding; the reversed entropy of physical items is shot simultaneously as things going forward in time, the action scenes are well choreographed and all shot practically and the soundtrack is stunning, innovative and mind-bending. If the sound mixing and exposition were expressed and mastered differently, this could have been a groundbreaking film in creative cinema.  

 While the film is a bit of a missed opportunity, fortunately it can still be viewed in the format Nolan intended. With built-in social distancing, the drive-in theater is both active and ready to make a comeback in 2020. The Santee Drive-In Theatre and the South Bay Drive-In, located in Chula Vista, are both operating nearby for the opportunity to see brand new movies and re-run classics on the big screen and in the comfort of your car. 

Written By: Tony Le Calvez