Tenet (2020) John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Pattinson, Directed by Christopher Nolan
***SPOILER FREE REVIEW***
“It’s the bomb that didn’t go off. The danger no one knew was real. That’s the bomb with real power to change the world” Robert Pattinson (Neil)
Movies are dying, and the threat is not unknown. Tenet is the first film I saw in a movie theater since Covid and the theater was nearly empty. I don’t know what that says about movie theaters, or perhaps the world, but it is scary, so immediately that sad reality put me in a good head space for a heady, kind of bonkers Christopher Nolan film. Nolan who is now starting to seem seriously obsessed with the notion of “time” (Memento, Intersteller, and Inception), seems like the right director to get folks back into the multiplexes (albeit distanced, with hand sanitizer, and a mask). The question remains, is the juice worth the squeeze in this case?
Successful Director Christopher Nolan (Inception and The Dark Knight) returns to high concept (mind-fuckery) filmmaking with a bold and ambitious time looping extravaganza that will likely leave you scratching your head and asking wait, what now? Early on after a beautifully shot opera hijacking set piece we meet The Protagonist (A little stiff and kind of hollow John David Washington, but his performance grows on you), after performing admirably while under extreme duress he is recruited into a “save the world” type CIA offshoot agency, which remains mostly nameless and is code-worded Tenet (a palindrome like Hannah was in 2016’s Arrival). As The Protagonist finds out his new mission requires he change the way he see and think about things (“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”). Along this strange new time-bending journey The Protagonist is helped by a very knowledgeable agent named Neil (the best I have seen Pattinson so far, charming and confident). Neil works to assist The Protagonist in trying to get to a man that may cause the end of the world, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh with full Russian accent from Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit). Sator is an abusive husband who is holding his wife Kat (the lovely Elizabeth Debicki who often provides the film with much needed humanity) and her son essentially hostage. Plenty of Nolan Cameos and side players show up to chew up some elaborate exposition (Michael Caine, Himesh Patel, Clemence Posey, and bearded Aaron Taylor-Johnson), but mostly just in short spurts. This film is in some ways a buddy cop film for Washington and Pattinson, and it plays best when they are working together, moving from one action set piece to another. It is perhaps best not to think too hard about this one, unlike the first Matrix film, there is a spoon, but trying to know why it bends is futile. Nolan in similar fashion to previous works Memento, Inception, and Interstellar is purposely complexifying his plot in a way that lets him manipulate and bend the audience to his needs. It works, because we are all confused believe me, but once you know the prestige as it were, you sort of shrug and say um..ok, I guess? Don’t get me wrong, Nolan is an expert at sound and cinematography and this movie will leave you thrilled with some truly beautiful shots, and amaze you with thrilling action, but outside of one, maybe two moments, it really whiffs on several potential emotional opportunities. Nolan is a good filmmaker and a good writer, but he cares much more about the how, then the who. The said, Tenet will blow your hair back, yes it’s convoluted, yes, at times it is a little soulless, but it is still a fun ride nonetheless. SEE IT!!!
(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Tenet is a truly dazzling spectacle worth seeing in a theater so as long as you take precautions. It is also remarkably befuddling and confusing, so best not to try and process the plot, rather allow yourself to lean back and let it wash over you. I like Nolan, it is admirable that he is trying so hard to make the concept the main character in his films, rather than the people, but as a human, I still hope that he one day chooses to scale it back again, so that he may remember who and what we are doing all this fighting for anyway. It is solid 6.5 on the The Shawshank Scale.
Ranking the Christopher Nolan Films:
1. Inception-Peak Nolan bends fun relatable characters with high concept.
2. Memento-Another mind bender, so innovative in its time.
3. The Dark Knight Rises-Endings are hard, so extra points for doing a good job.
4. The Dark Knight-A little convoluted, but still a great Batman film.
5. Batman Begins-A worthy reboot that sparked a very solid trilogy.
6. The Prestige-A fun ride with 2 great performances by the lead actors.
7. Dunkirk-Interesting war film, still processing why I didn’t like it more.
8. Insomnia-A dark creepy slow burn, setting is so key here.
9. Interstellar-Messy and long, but a beautiful messy and long.
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