Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ too convoluted for its own good

John David Washington and Elizabeth Debicki in Tenet / Warner Bros.

“Tenet” is probably everything you’ve imagined it was and maybe a little bit more, but the latest Christopher Nolan movie, though a technical masterpiece, comes off a little cold and sparse emotionally and unnecessarily convoluted.

The movie is a technically marvelous and edgily interesting, but similarly to his last film “Dunkirk,” while impressive from a technical standpoint, the movie could have used a bit more heart and soul.

The spy thriller left me feeling a bit empty and emotionally unfulfilled because despite the movie prodigious 2 hour, and nearly 30-minute running time I never truly connected with John David Washington’s character, known only as the Protagonist. That’s not Washington’s fault, though. The spectacle of Nolan’s grand film tends to choke out its humanity.

Washington, the son of Denzel Washington, is an actor to watch, but the weight of this film almost drowns him and and the rest of the cast.

Washington’s performance made Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” shine, and he is the standout performer on the HBO football series “Ballers” as the egotistical wide receiver Ricky, but the spectacle of Nolan’s convoluted, time-shifting, sci-fi spy story overwhelms him and every other performer in the movie. The fact that it takes the movie at least an hour and a half of its running time to ramp up puts a damper on things. I was tired before movie ever got moving.

Once “Tenet” does rev up, it’s a nonstop race to the finish that is thrilling technically, but at least for me, lacking emotionally. The pace and convolutions never truly allow the movie or its performers to breath, despite its prodigious running time. It’s a bit like reading a novel where someone excised the character development and added an extra does of action and cool scientific concepts.

Once the credits rolled, I felt a little like I ate a sandwich without the meat. I was full, but felt sorta unsatisfied. The movie lacked or I did not connect with its emotional core, even though I found aspects of the film quite compelling.

The movie also stars Kenneth Branagh as a Russian oligarch name Andrei Sator, who communes with the future; Robert Pattinson as Neil, Washington’s handler, and Elizabeth Debicki as Kat, Branagh’s estranged wife. Their talents are evident and appreciated, but like Washington, their performances are eaten up by the complexity of Nolan’s story.

While this review is sparse on details, I’ll warn you that the movie does have what I would call a “Planet of the Apes” type of reveal that’s meant to shock and surprise, but it also opens up many more questions.

While I’m not sure I will ever watch the movie again — at least not for a while — like several other of Nolan’s films, “Tenet” would likely come better into focus with a second viewing.

At the moment, though, I’m not willing to devote another two and half hours of my life to the movie. Watching it once was more than enough.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 28 min.
Grade: C

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Classic Corner – Valley Girl

Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman in Valley Girl / Epic

If you had HBO in the mid 1980s, the teen romance “Valley Girl” was a film you couldn’t escape. If “Ghostbusters” wasn’t running, then “Valley Girl” probably was, or at least that’s how my brain has compressed events from that time period when my junior high buddies and I overloaded our young impressionable minds on MTV and HBO.

The heavy rotation of the 1983 movie, impeccably directed by Martha Coolidge, wasn’t a bad thing, at least not for me and my friends. Nicolas Cage, who played punk, Randy was a weirdly interesting character, and Deborah Foreman as Julie was the type of girl every junior high boy hoped he would be able to date in high school. Michael Bowen was perfectly cast as Tommy, Julie’s douchey boyfriend, a character designed to make every guy watching the movie want to punch him the nose—numerous times.

The film is a loose, sophomoric and yet compelling take on “Romeo and Juliet,” just without all the suicide at the the end. It features a strong new wave sound track that perfectly sets the mood for the film that attempted to be a little bit edgy for its teen audience, but in hindsight is about as traditional of a love story as has ever been committed to film.

Cage is excellent in the movie as the little bit goofy, little bit dangerous Randy, who is just odd enough to catch the eye of Foreman’s Julie, who is becoming bored with the vapid, self-centered Tommy, the stereotypical jerky jock, who doesn’t deserve the attention of, well, anyone much less a girl like Julie.

It’s the first movie where I and many film fans noticed Cage. He’s kinetic in the role of the misunderstood punk who is smitten by the girl from the right side of the tracks. Foreman, on the other hand, while very pretty is bland as Wonder Bread.

In hindsight, maybe, this movie is a little bland and pedestrian itself, except for Cage and the sound track featuring Modern English’s “I Melt with You,” which I haven’t been able to get out of my head since a couple of junior high buddies and me first stumbled upon the movie late one summer night after working out in preparation for football practice.

Obviously, the movie is a sentimental favorite of mine, but you might also get a kick out taking a trip back to a much simpler time in the 1980s. I can’t promise you the film will hold up, but if you watch it, I think you’ll at least find that old Modern English tune as hauntingly sentimental as I do.