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09 Sep 2020

The Return of In-Theater Blockbusters: 'Tenet' Is Gorgeous and Confusing—but You'll Need to Drive to San Diego to See It Without a Wait

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Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington in Tenet. Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington in Tenet.

(4 1/2 of 5 stars)

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is the sort of movie you need to just take in the first time you see it. Don’t try to figure stuff out; if your brain picks up on shit, fine. If not, relax, because it all does make sense in that Christopher Nolan-puzzler sort of way. You’ll figure it out later.

After many postponements, Hollywood rolled the dice and put Tenet exclusively in theaters, at a time when films like Mulan (exclusively on Disney+) and Bill and Ted Face the Music (a combo of streaming and in-theater releases) dabble with new release formulas, because theaters remain closed in a third of the country—and because COVID-19 is still very much a threat. 

Yeah, I risked life and limb to go to the recently reopened AMC (I’m currently in Texas) to watch this in IMAX. Putting the quality of the film aside, I must confess that this was the most fun I’ve had since closing the vault door to my apartment six months ago and staying in there every day. It was a WOW moment for me to plant myself in a theater chair for the first time in half a year and get my ears and face blasted with a Nolan film. Since theaters aren’t open yet in the Coachella Valley, if you want to see Tenet, you’re either going to need to wait a bit, or make the two-hour trek to San Diego County, which is one step ahead of us on the state’s “county risk” scale.

John David Washington plays a character called “The Protagonist,” an agent of some sort on a mission to find pieces of a complex puzzle to save the world—and that’s all I’m telling you about the plot. Robert Pattinson (recently sidelined on The Batman shoot due after testing positive for COVID-19) is a terrific sidekick as another mysterious agent, while Elizabeth Debicki mesmerizes as Kat, the troubled wife of Andrei, a nasty, nasty guy played by Kenneth Branagh.

The film is visually stunning and at times totally confusing—but it pays off in the end with revelations that tie things up just enough, although you’ll probably spend the next five days putting the remaining mysteries together.

I’ve already had a couple of fun conversations about Tenet with my brother where we argue over what certain things meant. I love movies that spark that kind of conversation.

Tenet is now playing in theaters in San Diego County.

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