Tenet: distilled to its basics, the story of Christopher Nolan’s film is a stock spy adventure, where the protagonist faces villains and tries to keep some sort of majorly destructive weapon out of their hands. This being a film by Nolan, however, he introduces some measure of non-linear time manipulation; that does not make the story more interesting or complex, merely unintelligible. Visually, that idea translates into a contrivance in the action sequences; much like the story, the action becomes hard to follow moment to moment, even with a few scattered smart a-ha occasions. John David Washington’s character is a cipher, and he plays it well, with fine physicality and a bit of empathy; Robert Pattinson is effective as the also opaque sidekick; Kenneth Branagh is rather heavy-handed as the villain. In any case, the heart of the film belongs to Elizabeth Debicki, who pays the only character with a bit of palpable humanity, a mother desperate to get her son back. The action sequences get distracting at times, as some of the elements constantly seem to be moving at a slower pace; that may have been the solution to make the whole more understandable, but the sacrifice is too great. Even more head-scratching is the creative choice made with the sound design, which insistently drowned the dialogue under the sound effects and composer Ludwig Göransson’s bass-heavy musical score. The director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema’s images, however, are above reproach.