REEL Review – Tenet (2020)

Director: Christopher Nolan | 2h 30mins | Sci-Fi, Action

A man known as The Protagonist (John David Washington) enters into a secretive world where people have learnt how to invert time. In order to stop the people who plan to use it for humanities demise, he has to get close to renowned Arms Dealer Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh).

Your ability to enjoy Tenet really depends on what kind of Nolan fan you are. If you appreciate the complexity that he often employs into his stories and action then Tenet is definitely up your alley, but, if you prefer the engaging popcorn factor that he effortlessly weaves into his previous films, the chances are you’ll find Tenet exhausting beyond measure. A film that prioritises it’s science and theory over complete clarity, this is definitely Nolan’s most inaccessible film to date.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, much like his other films Tenet acts as an experience more so than a Friday night film with the family. The action set-pieces are executed down to a tee in the most spectacular fashion – as actors, building and explosions all move forward and backwards in harmony, as well as a deep score that penetrates your eardrums. It’s the type of concept that demands perfection, and Nolan’s experience with films like Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014) have proven that if anyone can nail practical effects and action sequences, it’s him.

The film starts of with a bang, as a small team of incognito special forces infiltrates an opera house under attack in order to protect an asset who’s gotten hold of a very important object. The team is lead by the films protagonist, named The Protagonist, played by John David Washington. Stoic and to the point, he then accepts a job armed with only one word, Tenet. He then becomes embroiled in the life of an Art Curator named Kat, played by Elizabeth Debicki, in order to get close to her dangerous husband Andrei, who seems to be at the forefront of the inverted technology.

All of this, including a very unique anti-bungee jump and a small expositional laboratory conversation, happens within the first 25-30 minutes of the film. It feels too much like Nolan wanted to get to the meat of the story, and this first parts of the film comes across rushed. So much information about the characters and the inverted concept is thrust upon you it’s impossible to absorb it all, and for the rest of the film it feels like you’re playing catch up. Maybe Tenet would have benefited from the ‘explain as you go’ style of Inception, as part of the entertainment comes from the conceptual explanation. Having said this though, when the film eventually builds to the meat of the story, what follows is a mind-bending experience like no other.

The way Nolan choreographs his action and structures his time inverted story is so impressive, navigating the complex road he himself has set out with precise and jaw-dropping set pieces. One scene sees a car chase between The Protagonist and Andrei, in which Nolan has the audacity to have a reverse car crash in the middle of it. This, and the spectacle of watching a building blow up in two different time frames, is just another example of the directors spectacle direction and attention to the magnificent boundaries you push when making an action movie.

The Protagonist, as a protagonist, is somewhat subdued because of his covert background, and it’s played in snappy fashion by John David Washington who is surely now at the top of the pecking order when it comes to major movies. Along with him is Robert Pattinson as a coy but reliable compadre, and probably the best performance in the film comes from Elizabeth Debicki, as a fragile wife and mother who’s priorities lie solely with her son’s safety. All of these stars really do great with their characters, finding enough depth (especially Debicki) in a film that has higher priorities than the people involved.

If the film wasn’t so withheld, there is a chance you could coast through Tenet without a problem. But Nolan specifically wants an element of espionage to his Sci-Fi spectacle, and even though you will never fully understand what’s happening on your first viewing of the film there is enough coherence to follow. Mind-bending and jaw dropping, Tenet will please fans that love complexity in their films.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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