Review: Exposition, Thy Name Is ‘Tenet’

by Shelt Garner

I am a very harsh critic of movies. I am known to walk out of movies the moment I feel they’re not working. So, in a sense, Tenet got the ultimate honor from me — I stuck around to see how it ended.

The issue for me about Tenet was it was an excellent premise with a piss-poor implementation. I say this specifically because virtually all the dialog is exposition. And there’s very little character development. I struggled to care about these characters. In fact, the only reason why I cared about anything that took place was the premise was so intriguing that I wanted to see how it ultimately was wrapped up.

I did love the movie’s cinematography. It was Oscar-worthy it was so good. That was another thing the movie had going for it during the otherwise interminable exposition — I loved how the movie looked.

It was interesting that the inciting incident happened in the first scene. Why this is important is if Christopher Nolan had gone with a more traditional structure for the movie, then maybe there could have been more character development. Then when the action started, I would have had some sense of the characters and cared one way or another what happened to them.

I understand Nolan’s vision — he wanted to make a really thought provoking movie. And he did. The movie IS really thought provoking. The only problem is, at least for me, is the movie would have been far more grounded if it was a bit more traditional. I think, maybe, the problem was a screenplay. Not only is much of the screenplay consumed by exposition, but what exposition there is is extremely confusing to the point of being unintelligible.

As a person writing a novel, I found myself thinking up a way not only to explain what was going on better, but to do so in a way that gave me time to have actual dialog. This problem of dialog-as-exposition was so bad that the movie went from really interesting, innovative action set pieces to going to a stand still so people could explain the movie to us. It was just really dull. And not in a 2001-dull-but-brilliant way, either. It was just dull. There were so many other ways that exposition could have been presented that would have made the movie far more engaging and accessible.

It’s as if Nolan studied Inception and decided what made that movie popular was audiences enjoying trying to figuring what was going on. There are plenty of ways the movie could have been more straightforward and still have been just as intriguing AND would have entertained audiences. Just because you jumbled up a movie’s conceit, doesn’t mean it’s “smart.” It’s just really irritating because you’re making the audience think far more than is necessary.

I think I’m being a little too snobbish because I’m writing a novel and I want it to be really, really, really accessible, so when someone like Nolan goes out of his way to do the opposite it grates on my nerves.

I have to give a shout out to Elizabeth Debick’s “pins” as the Brits would say. It was amusing that the producers went WAAAAY out of their way to feature those sky high legs of hers. She’s a real stunner.

In general, Tenet was a good movie and I recommend it. I just feel as though it was something of a miss opportunity. It could have been a whole lot better if they had simply followed traditional storytelling conventions.

Author: Shelton Bumgarner

I am the Editor & Publisher of The Trumplandia Report

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