Synopsis – Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.
My Take – I think we can all attest to the fact that the release of a Christopher Nolan film is nothing short of an event. After all the filmmaker is behind quintessential films such as The Dark Knight trilogy, Memento, The Prestige, Insomnia, Inception, Interstellar and the unique war film Dunkirk, and one of the few directors who can still command a studio to provide him a budget over 150million for a non-franchise film.
But what clearly makes Nolan stand apart from his peers is how despite basing his films in the mainstream category he is never afraid to challenge his audience with demanding, complicated stories and inexplicable plot twists. And in that sense, his latest film is no exception as never quite prepares you for the brain-addling time distortion it is going to display.
Originally scheduled for earlier in the summer, this film marks the first significant release to open theatrically since lockdown and with director Nolan refusing to settle for anything less than a decent big screen for his latest, making this one definitely worth the wait.
If you ever wondered what a Christopher Nolan helmed Bond film might look like, the answer is this. With its operatically staged action sequences and Ludwig Goransson‘s pulsating soundtrack, the film is a complete sensory overload that offers a cinematic experience not to be missed.
Yes, the film is truly complicated, packed to the rafters with twists, and a super high concept which, certainly in the final third, would be very hard for an average viewer to gather all the information provided on first watch, as more hidden elements come to light on repeated viewing, while also giving a better sense of how the uncompromising visionary filmmaker is continuously taking his legacy forward with every film.
The story follows a CIA agent (John David Washington) who is only known as the Protagonist, who following a mission which involved a terrorist siege at a Ukrainian opera house, is recruited by Victor (Martin Donovan), his superior for a secret mission which concerns preventing an event which is already deemed to be something worse than World War III. A journey that sees him teaming up with Neil (Robert Pattinson), his on the ground handler, on a globe-trotting mission to trace the origins of a unique bullet and its distributor, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), a violent Russian billionaire who has somehow found a way to broker with the future.
With his whole organization being tightly secretive about their operations, the Protagonist realizes that the only way to get Sator’s attention is by getting close to Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), his estranged wife, who desperately looking for a way to escape the stranglehold.
It would be a shame to say much more, but what follows is in an incredibly intricate game of one-up man ship which involves traveling back and forward in time, sometimes by minutes, sometimes by weeks. From its heart racing opening to its dual-timeline finale, director Nolan pushes the boundaries of how film is presented and meant to be consumed. While the ingenious Inception exposed us to dream sequences in several dimensions, and Interstaller took us into worm holes and here, time shifts and parallel dimensions become central.
Playing fast and loose with chronology, the film is built like a puzzle with a story that folds over itself enough times to make you believe the screenplay was built from the mind of a genius. We see cars drive backwards, bullets being shot back into the barrel, heat turning into ice and people, with the supply of artificial oxygen, talking and walking backwards from one perspective.
Laced with references to theoretical physics, the film comes across like a tent pole film which will see fan forums unpicking its plot intricacies for years to come, while director Nolan’s narrative daring leaves other spy films looking infantile. Without a doubt, the premise of how “inversion” in this film works is very intriguing and not just a gimmick. The tension and pacing never really drops, the score is phenomenal and the atmosphere of the film is so unique. It is a thrill ride from start to finish.
Above all the film satisfies as a big-screen spectacle, cracking along at a dizzying pace thanks to editor Jennifer Lame’s deft handling of the material. Seriously, there’s no overstating the scale of the film, which moves from one enormous set-piece to another, featuring jaw-dropping set pieces shot using IMAX cameras which include a bungee up a building and a Boeing 747 plane crash, and a climactic battle that is of staggering ambition.
Director Nolan‘s mindset of trying to use as much practical effects as possible instead of CGI really benefited this film. And because of that every big action set piece in this looks absolutely stunning and genuinely feels like real life. This really is unlike anything i have ever seen before.
However, that does not deny the fact the film has some troubles, especially how frustratingly the occasionally crucial lines of dialogue end up being muffled by the background score. Watching the film can be both compelling yet frustrating at the same time. It is action-packed and intellectually stimulating, but at times also includes elements that are somewhat unnecessarily chaotic and confusing. As there is a lot of exposition to understand, blink, and you’d miss a crucial clue, a vital piece of information. It is that sort of film.
Nevertheless, the film despite its run time, there’s a lot of forward momentum so it never drags. The pacing is definitely brisk, maybe a little too brisk because it doesn’t give you any pause to try to catch up on what’s happening.
Performance wise, John David Washington seems to easily slip into his role, however, it felt like his role was a little underwritten, hence making it hard to get a hold him as a person. However, the same doesn’t apply for Robert Pattinson who once again proves that he is a powerhouse of talent, managing to steal the focus every time he is on screen. Elizabeth Debicki manages to express her desperation and remorse skillfully, making her the most human character of the lot.
Though, Kenneth Branagh is playing the pure cliché of a Russian villain, he manages to strike a chord of fear especially in comparison to the similar role he played in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014). In other roles, Dimple Kapadia, Himesh Patel, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clémence Poésy and Michael Caine manage to make an impact. On the whole, ‘Tenet’ is a challenging, ambitious, and incredibly twisty thriller that deserves praise for being a mind boggling original film.
Directed – Christopher Nolan
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 150 minutes