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.
A new Christopher Nolan film is always cause for celebration and the release of ‘Tenet’ is even more exciting as it coincided with my first visit to the cinema in almost six months. It’s Nolan’s first film in three years and it’s every bit as twisty and mindbending as his last couple of (non-Batman and ‘Dunkirk‘) films have been – in other words this is very much a Christopher Nolan film. I saw one commentator on twitter refer to the film as being ‘like ‘Inception’ on steroids’ and it’s such a good description that I feel the need to borrow it for this review. ‘Tenet’ is an absolute thrill ride from start to finish that moves at such a pace that it’s hard to keep up, and whilst I certainly didn’t follow everything that was going on, I thought it was a terrifically entertaining experience.
The plot, for what it matters, centres on a secret agent who undertakes a mission to prevent World War 3 by manipulating time. So far, so Nolan. He’s played by John David Washington who makes a good leading man (as ‘Blackkklansman’ showed), and he’s joined by a supporting cast that includes in the main roles, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh – Pattinson and Debicki in particular are both excellent. It is a film that was always one step ahead of me, and I suspect the audience as well, and I liked that – there was enough to follow what was going on in broad strokes, but I did struggle with some of the theoretical elements that to be frank, were a bit beyond my level of understanding!
It’s a film that starts off broadly making sense and gets more and more complicated as Nolan layers on different elements, and once I accepted I wasn’t going to understand everything, I enjoyed it a lot more. Even by Nolan’s standards this is very challenging to follow and I can understand why the film has been divisive, but I loved the sheer adrenaline ride that it is, particularly as the pieces start to fit together that make earlier moments make a lot more sense. The action sequences are relentless, beginning with a terrific opening at an Opera House (filmed at an abandoned sports stadium in Tallinn, Estonia called Linnahall – worth a visit if you’re there!), and I was in awe at how the filmmakers managed to create some of the sequences. The soundtrack from Ludwig Goransson (not regular collaborator Hans Zimmer) perfectly matches the events on screen, and it looks absolutely stunning with some great locations used across the globe.
If there’s a criticism from my side, it’s that I felt some of the character motivations remained shady and in the case of Branagh’s character, not strong enough to justify the decisions he made, although I will freely admit much of the intricacies of the plot were beyond my comprehension. When I talk about films, I often retreat back to a Roger Ebert statement about the importance of how a film makes you feel, and ‘Tenet’ is a perfect example of that for me. It made me feel exhilarated, challenged and thoroughly entertained, and flaws or not, that’s exactly what I was looking for on my return to the cinema and it delivered it in absolute spades.
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Caine, Dimple Kapadia, Kenneth Branagh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clemence Poesy, Himesh Patel, Denzil Smith, Martin Donovan, Sean Avery and Jack Cutmore-Scott