Tenet would have likely been one of the biggest blockbuster hits of last year as a science fiction action thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. However, on the surface, it feels like the wackiest James Bond movie ever made. The main character, called only "The Protagonist", is a spy sent to track down secrets to ultimately stop the end of the world. It seems as if everyone else in the movie already knows the answers to these secrets except The Protoganist who has to figure them out one piece at a time. His journey mirrors the audience who are also learning about these secrets for the first time.
The premise is that in the distant future someone builds a machine that can "reverse the flow of entropy" on matter and people, which means that the matter and people experience time in reverse. The reversed matter travels backward in time at a normal rate instead of forward at a normal rate. I am pretty sure that this is and will forever be physically impossible, but science fiction is full of impossible contrivances. In this sense, the premise is similar to the low-budget mind-bending time-travel film Primer.
The future people are unhappy about Climate Change ruining their world, so they devise a plot to destroy the world in our time thinking that they can still protect themselves in the future, which absolutely makes no sense. They devise a way to communicate with a dying psychopathic billionaire who agrees to go along with their scheme. The billionaire and the future people send information and technology back and forth by burying it in designated spots for the other to retrieve in their time.
This leads to some very convoluted scenes of people fighting and scheming against each other while experiencing time in opposite directions. This includes a great battle that is too confusing for normal minds to follow.
There is an obligatory romantic interest that causes The Protagonist to do things that otherwise might be counter to his mission.
I am pretty sure that the movie as a whole doesn't make sense, but it doesn't matter. There are likely people who will analyze every scene and plot it on a graph so as to finally understand the entire story, as was done with the very convoluted aforementioned film Primer. Except that I am not so enthralled with the movie's excesses that I would do that. I don't care if the movie makes sense or not. This film is what I like to call, "A Grand Spectacle", and as such, it is a visual treat to watch whether it makes sense or not. I don't have to fully understand it to enjoy it.
Despite the absurdity of the whole premise and the overall complexity of the story, the movie is a captivating experience.
Had the film been a major blockbuster last year, instead of experiencing a limited release in theaters due to COVID, I'm sure that people would have talked about it for months. This is the kind of movie that people make videos on Youtube to explain.
When I was reviewing the movie "The Signal", I said that the trouble with low budget science fiction movies is that these types of films might have one good idea, whereas a big-budget movie like "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" is loaded with many good ideas. The Signal kept you in suspense for the whole film, making you think that this story was leading up to something wonderful. There was a payoff in the end, but that payoff was so short that if you had closed your eyes for just a couple of seconds then you would have missed it. Literally. Everything I said about "The Signal" is also true for "The Vast of the Night", except the ending is a little longer. However, both movies are an exercise in prolonged tension to arrive at similar endings. The Vast of the Night feels like a master class in low budget filmmaking. It does a great job with its long camera shots and its unknown actors who give stellar performances. The movie starts by showing an old fashioned television screen like it is playing an episode of the old Twilight Zone. The camera zooms into the screen and now we are following characters in a 1950's small New Mexico town on the night of a high school basketball game. It spends a long 20 minutes introducing its settings and characters, after which the local switchboard operator starts noticing weird things happening. She teams up with her friend, a disk jockey at a one-man radio station to investigate what is going on. Many of the scenes drag on a bit, mostly with conversation. But there is a frantic tension that builds toward the conclusion. Fortunately, the actors really sell this story. We get a sense that these are ordinary people caught up in something big that they don't understand. The minimalist style of this film could be called experimental, but for 85 minutes it works really well. Rating: B+. A reviewer on youtube gave the film an A-. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HEcnacyI_8