Time is an asset and in the world of Christopher Nolan, being able to manipulate it, is the greatest gift of all. By now, most movie-goers have seen multiple if not numerous previews for his newest film Tenet. A film that is quite ambitious and certainly joins in the ranks on the list of impressive accolades to Nolan’s resume. Being delayed three times due to the Covid-19 pandemic it was set to be the big summer release and after catching an early screening of the film, I feel that only the true die-hard Nolan fans will have something to talk about after viewing this film. One thing that I did take away from it is that this isn’t a film for the casual movie-goer. Let that be a fair warning.
The film starts off in a big hurry as an unnamed CIA operative participates in a SWAT operation at a Kiev opera house. This mystery man is there on an another assignment entirely and is looking for a spy that has been found out. He retrieves the man he’s looking for and before he knows it, he comes into contact with a strange looking object. Something no ones recognizes and is sure to play to the heart of the film. Later on, this man, The Protagonist (John David Washington) meets with his boss who informs him of a new mission he’s to undertake. The world as we know it, is in grave danger. A Cold War is brewing and its only a matter of time before the end nears closer.
It’s here where we learn the rules of the film in something called “inversion”. The ability to sees what happens before reality sets in. Nolan introduces the audience to this idea that shows the Protagonist aiming a pistol at a target and while the gun has no bullets in it, the bullet enters the gun via reverse motion, or moving backwards through time. Say, you drop a pen on the floor. Let’s suppose someone recorded you dropping that pen and then playing it backwards. It would appear as if you held your hand out and the pen flew back into your hand. That’s roughly the same concept as with this film, but I assure you it’s way more complicated than that.
Then we meet the supporting cast of characters which include the Protagonist’s assistant (or handler for lack of a better word) Neil (Robert Pattinson) who has a way of coming up with a plan on the fly. We also have Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) who is the wife of a Russian Oligarch named Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who is the villain in the film. Sator is able to communicate with the future which allows all the action to happen in the first place. I won’t talk too much concerning the plot because even for a film review, there’s a lot to talk about so I’ll do my best to keep it simple. Basically, Sator could potentially have access to nuclear material which would allow the end of the world as we know it. A nuclear holocaust so to speak.
The plot gets further and further into the tricky area of understanding. We learn how this inversion is even possible and how one can travel back in time to fix the future from happening. The Grandfather’s Paradox comes into play but not exactly. It shames the same basic understanding of time travel and perhaps manipulation but Nolan crafts it in a way that can be confusing to casual movie-goers but a welcome treat for people who like to think. You’ve probably seen all the action that’s been showed off in the previews and they are quite impressive to say the least. The action scenes themselves have to be seen to be believed.
I enjoyed the actors in the film but I did feel that the movie itself felt small in terms of the characters. There aren’t that many of them to speak of. There’s another plot point that involves Kat and Sator that I won’t give away too much of, but it does have a lot to do with the overall plot of the film. As fans of Nolan’s previous works, this movie is somewhat similar to his impressive Inception, but that film’s plot was much easier to follow and understand than Tenet. I rather enjoyed the idea of time manipulation and being able to change the past and even experiencing the differences of going back in time that can bring dire consequences.
Unfortunately the stakes felt low because the character Sator fails to present a formidable threat, and even though I do like watching Kenneth Branagh, he isn’t a menacing or memorable villain. This is one of those movies you’ll probably need to see twice to fully understand as even when I left the theater I still had many questions running through my mind. In the end, I was impressed with the action sequences and even those amazing special effects during the inversion scenes. They are eye-catching to watch! However, the plot didn’t really interest me and the additional character of Priya (Dimple Kapadia) doesn’t get enough scenes in my opinion. I loved seeing her on the screen and was left wanting to know more about her character. Washington and Debicki are great and their story together was enough to keep me somewhat entertained, but for a two and a half hour feature, I think this film will test the audience’s patience.
Score 2.5 out of 5
I liked Tenet for its ambition, creativity for blending action and practical effects, and the inversion visuals, but Tenet didn’t hold my interest for the entire run time. In all honesty, I’m not the biggest Nolan fan but even for the ones who hold his works in high regard, I struggle to find anything memorable about this film when compared to Inception, The Dark Knight and even Memento, arguably some of the director’s finest works. Anyone who’s been itching to go to the movies should know that this movie is a matter of brains and understanding and not something where you can lose yourself for a couple of hours. Aside from the action and good casting, the plot may be too confusing for some and even the soundtrack itself isn’t all that exciting, more annoyance and overtly loud I might add. I just wonder why writer and director Christopher Nolan made the movie so long and so confusing at times.
It certainly aims high but ultimately fails to move nor amaze. Tenet is well-intentioned but is way too long at 2 hrs and 30 min and too scattershot for me to give a glowing recommendation. As I said before, a lot was enjoyable, but I wasn’t impressed once it was over. Coming from Christopher Nolan, it’s not a surprise for me but perhaps fans of his will feel differently. Words of advice: wait for DVD or streaming.