The Only Good Thing About 'Tenet' Is Kenneth Branaghís Gloriously Hammy Performance
The Movie Club, Entry 7

Slate, 28 December 2020
By Odie Henderson


Itís only fitting that 'Tenet' forces me to reverse the role I normally play in arguments about the Nolan-verse. Iíve always said Christopher Nolan made movies for computer science and math majors, of which I am both. Like tech support, he has the obnoxious desire to overexplain everything, as if he thinks youíre an idiot. As a techie, I donít find this upsettingóin fact, the only thing Iíve ever found truly offensive about Nolanís movies is the sound mix; it always feels as though heís mocking my hearing disability.

Nolanís suggestion that his fan base risk their lives to see 150 minutes of dreck in a theater, though, was truly offensive. Hell, if Bette Davisí ghost appeared before me, cigarette in hand, and demanded that I see All About Eve at a virus-filled multiplex, I would ask her what she was smoking. And thatís my favorite movie of all time. Movie theaters are not the only way to view a film. My love of the movies, especially old ones, came primarily from watching them in my youth on the crappiest black-and-white television Two Guys Department Store sold. Were I to have risked the írona to fulfill Nolanís egocentric temper tantrum of a request, all I would have gotten out of Tenet in a theater is a louder representation of his unintelligible dialogue.

'Tenet' doesnít even look good. Sure, John David Washingtonís wardrobe filled this clotheshorse with envy, but the awe I felt at the visual spectacle of 'Inception' is completely missing here. It looks like Nolan put a VHS playerís remote control in his back pocket and ass-dialed the rewind button. Not only did Missy Elliott do a better job putting her thing down, flipping and reversing it, she did it in four minutes and made more sense than this screenplay. And how dare they waste Elizabeth Debicki!

Boy, did I not like this movie.

But! There was one thing that held my interest, and itís worth briefly exploring. I am fascinated with Kenneth Branaghís recent role choices. After first filming himself as Henry V and Hamlet, as Sir Laurence Olivier did, heís now reenacting the ďIíll Do Anything for MoneyĒ scenery-chewing glory Sir Larry employed late in his career. In 'Tenet', Branagh recycles the awesomely bad Russian accent he had in 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit', and all I could do was stare at him with the jaw-dropping awe I felt for Olivierís awful performance in Neil Diamondís remake of The Jazz Singer. Nothing turns me on more than an actor whose massive ego harmonizes in perfect pitch with their shamelessness.

I wish Branagh had directed his own scenes in 'Tenet'. Nolan is too focused on his technical bullshit to do the kind of self-promotion Branagh the director does in service to Branagh the actor. I mean, just look at the overdramatic way his character is introduced in the deliriously brilliant Dead Again. As 'Tenetís' villain, Olivierís heir should be given free rein to bungee jump off the confines of a respectable performance, yet his director is otherwise indisposed and canít be bothered. Most of the middling reviews of Tenet I read cite Branagh as a weakness, but for me, he was the one interesting thing about the film, a special effect that stood out amid all that rather wretched CGI.

Two movies Iíve resisted seeing this year due to my own disinterest or taste were 'Iím Thinking of Ending Things' and 'Promising Young Woman'. The latter I had no desire to see for my own mental well-being. Iím not spoiler-averse at all, and once I heard what happens in PYW I knew I made the right choice to avoid it like the plague. But Iíve reviewed movies that have been triggering for my PTSD many, many times. This year, with the numerous people Iíve lost and my stress level off the charts, I really questioned if, from a criticís perspective, I was doing more with the life God gave me (to quote that great Jessica Tandy line from Nobodyís Fool). Given that 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' (which I love) and two-thirds of 'Adaptation' are the only things I could tolerate from Charlie Kaufman, it was easy to avoid his latest with no guilt on my part. My new rule is: Unless itís assigned to me, or Iím part of some judging awards body, I am done with trying to see everything just because. And who gets to decide what Iím required to see? Iím always pissed off by what people try to shame me for not liking or not seeing. Itís always something by a white director too, but Iím not gonna get on that soapbox today.

I will, however, see 'First Cow'. That damn movie has become for Showtime what 'The Beastmaster' was to HBO. I swear to God, every time I turn on my TV and check the guide, 'First Cow' is on. Even my mother knows about it! ďHave you seen this First Cow movie?Ē she asked when I called her. Even worse, she liked it! The die has been cast. If I dislike it, Iíll write about it in the next dispatch. But if I like it, I have agreed to cede two paragraphs to the titular star of the movie to bawl me out.

To close out, Iím curious about the last movie you saw in theaters before everything shut down, and if you liked it. If weíre counting first-run movies, my last one was the awful 'Bloodshot', which I reviewed. I exited the AMC Bedbug 25 to a nearly empty Times Square, an eerie premonition of what would happen two days later. But if weíre going with the last time I watched any movie in a theater, it was the next day, when I sat three rows from the front of the house at the Quad, where Sonia Braga held court after a screening of 'Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands'. If Sonia Braga is the last celebrity I ever get to see in person, I will say Iíve lived a full life.

Off to see a film about a cow.

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