A variety of questions surround the release of Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Tenet. Will it tempt audiences back into the cinema after months of closure? If so, is that responsible or even morally sound? Besides Covid, fans of the British director will also wonder whether he can repeat the successes of previous Science Fiction thrillers like Inception, while also furthering his courtship with the academy after the critically acclaimed Dunkirk.
Well, I can confirm that once you leave this film, you won’t be thinking about any of that. You’ll be thinking: “what the hell did I just watch?”. Now, I don’t mean that necessarily as a bad, nor unexpected thing. Nolan has always tackled complicated subjects. Inception was the go-to complex science film in the last decade, and the final act of Interstellar is the definition of timey-wimey science-ey stuff. But Tenet takes the quantum cake. It’s… very confusing.
The difficulty in grasping this film first arises when attempting to lay out the premise. John David Washington is “The Protagonist” (slightly pretentious but I digress), who is assigned a mission to stop an arms dealer (a very campy Russian Kenneth Brannagh) from waging World War III. On the surface, that sounds rather straightforward. But rest assured, that’s but a scratch, nay, a graze on the surface of this mammoth of a film.
It may seem like I’m holding off on giving a finite opinion on it, and that’s because I am. In truth, I feel like one needs to have studied this film in order to fully pass judgement. I’ve watched it twice (which is almost a requirement) and I still am baffled by much of it. That in itself isn’t a good thing, but in all honesty I was thoroughly entranced by this movie.
There I said it. Despite acknowledging its incoherence (if it had any sense of solid foundation one should be able to understand it), it’s hasty editing, lack of emotional core and endless amount of exposition, there was something magical about the whole experience. Nolan is becoming increasingly reliable in giving audiences a thoroughly unique cinematic experience. I can’t imagine watching something like Tenet ever again. It’s distinctly Christopher Nolan, yet wholly its own entity. The central conceit (I’ll call it time travel for now even though that’s apparently not what it is) is so unique, fascinating and downright bold that you can’t help but throw your hands in the air with delight and wonder.
The action sequences are stellar, cinematography excellent and score good enough to not make you miss Hans Zimmer. I will say that the mix was a little messy. Some scenes were difficult to hear, and when the plot is so confusing, that’s a problem. But besides that, this film is a technical marvel. The performances are also reliably solid. John David Washington is admittedly not given the meatiest role but he’s got enough swagger to make the average producer raise their eyebrows and mutter “future Bond?”. The real standouts however are Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki, the latter of which has to deliver some exceptionally corny lines.
Yes, the script could do with some work, but the story is so brazen that quite frankly I don’t care. There are plenty of films that are better than Tenet, but I’m inexplicably drawn to it. Like the plot itself, my own opinion of the movie is in itself, a puzzle.