‘Tenet’ Review

To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Tenet is a very enjoyable film. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the story follows the Protagonist, a former CIA agent as he joins a secret organization called Tenet, that uses machines that chronologically invert matter to help stop a Russian oligarch and prevent World War III. The film stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh.

Not much praise is given to directors in film reviews but Christopher Nolan always delivers. I love that most of his films all have to do with the subject of time. It has started to provide a through line for his body of work so that audiences can somewhat know what to expect from his next film. There was the passage of time in different levels of a dream in Inception, the effects of gravity on time in Interstellar, and the non-chronological narrative present in Memento and Dunkirk. In Tenet, Nolan deals with an unconventional form of time travel. People and objects are inverted via a radiation chamber and can move backwards in time even though they are technically still moving forward. There are rules to this which are set up quite nicely, but not over explained so that the audience gets lost trying to figure out the minute details. A spy thriller with time bending antics is definitely a first for Nolan and feels like nothing he’s done before. This is the best thing about Nolan’s films is that they always feel fresh even with mildly similar concepts. Also, the plethora of locales makes Tenet feel like a Bond film set in an alternate universe. We go from Kyiv to Mumbai to Oslo to the Amalfi Coast before we even reach the movies climax. Then there’s also the unlikely partner, damsel in distress and over the top powerful villain which are right out of an Ian Fleming novel.

But a director is nothing without his cinematographer and Hoyte van Hoytema does a fine job. He makes all the shots look simple and crisp even when there’s a lot going on around the characters. The color correction is also superb as everything takes on a bright dusty hue when they are in a desert, darker more muted colors on display during scenes that take place at night and more vivid colors are juxtaposed when scenes take place near water. The angles used during action scenes alternate from close up and intimate to distant and open.

Like with any Nolan film, the acting is top notch. John David Washington is great as the Protagonist. He plays a man of duty very well and carries a swagger on screen that is definitely pulled from his father. There are times where if you close your eyes it sounds like Denzel Washington is on screen. Like Bond, the protagonist values his mission over anything else but has a soft spot for the ladies and people he feels that he can trust. Robert Pattinson is also great as the enigmatic Neil. While his background is a mystery, he quickly gets along well with the Protagonist and they make a great team. Clearly the brains of the operation his choices do raise questions with the Protagonist that make for a great climax for the story before we get into the second half. The fate of his character adds a mystery element to the film which Nolan is good for. Like with the spinning top at the end of Inception or the fate of Brand in Interstellar. The audience is left to wonder who Neil really is to the protagonist and if we’ve seen him hidden in the film somewhere in the current time.

Elizabeth Debicki is the heart of the film as Kat Barton. Saving her is what drives most of the second half of the film. While initially depicted as the damsel in distress type of character, she is shown to somewhat overcome it by the end when she joins in on Tenet’s temporal pincer operation. Kenneth Branagh is a presence on screen as the Russian oligarch Andrei Sator. In true villain fashion he has an over-the-top plan that could be fulfilled at any moment, but he wants it done a certain way. While he is indeed cruel, especially to Kat, there is a sadness about him as he knows he has little time left and has some regret about what his actions have caused for his family.

The only negatives about the film are the sound mixing and character development. In terms of character development, it would have been nice to spend a little more time with the Protagonist before he joins Tenet. This would have allowed the audience to understand his choices a little more and relate to him better. The sound mixing ends up hurting the film because Ludwig Göransson has a great score which sounds very similar to what Hans Zimmer would have done if he were on the film. Background noise also overpowers the characters when they speak so for much of the film it’s hard to make out the dialogue of the characters. If you are not listening very closely you can easily miss some key information. Therefore, it’s probably best to watch with subtitles on. I give a Tenet a Decent 8.3/10.

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