Jacob Richardson | 22/08/2020
A mind-boggling, jaw-dropping experience.
The Protagonist (John David Washington) is tasked by a mysterious organisation known as Tenet to track down and prevent a world-ending occurrence - ‘inverted’ materials, travelling backwards in time rather than forwards. Teaming up with Neil (Robert Pattinson), he travels across the globe in search of the source - a Russian billionaire Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), whose wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) seems inextricably linked to the series of events.
Tenet is absolutely patently insane. With so much hype, which has only been compounded by its COVID-19 related delay and its place as the first major release post-pandemic, one could be forgiven for being a bit trepidatious about this film. How could it every live up to the expectation? The good news is that Nolan knocks it out of the park with Tenet, which straps you in for a mile-a-minute thrill ride that blows your mind in every scene.
The film is best seen with as little backstory as you can muster, as it truly leads you down a rabbit-hole of twists and turns. Director Christopher Nolan brings his usual obsession with time, but ramps up the pace to the max. Early in the film, this feels at times too much; scene after scene trimmed down with no fat whatsoever, but also with few to no character beats. But as the movie progresses, these characters start to unfurl more and expand into the space. The pacing keeps you on your toes, and gripping your armrests throughout - this is a tense, engaging and engrossing piece that keeps you utterly enthralled for its full runtime.
Visually, this is unparalleled. Each shot is achingly beautiful, as you’d expect from one of the premiere filmmakers in the industry. Nolan too takes the time-travel concept to the max, building action scenes that take the visual tricks from little trinkets early into the film to major spectacle by the end, that leaves you shocked and awed at how it could have been done.
From a performance perspective, everybody is on form. Washington is mysterious, beguiling and compelling, and Debicki is perfect as a strong but downtrodden and trapped woman. Pattinson fills a sort of Tom Hardy in Inception vibe, and has a lot of fun with it, and Branagh makes an outstanding villain, even avoiding the pitfalls of his Russian accent that took over his performance in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
Tenet undoubtedly has some issues. The sound mix can at times be grating, with the music drowning out dialogue. On top of this, the subject matter can be dense and difficult to follow - and you can find yourself lost in your own head, trying to work out how the rules work and what is going on. But Nolan unfurls this story in parts, with exposition slowly coming to the front. It’s a difficult line to walk, to give enough exposition to make this understandable without losing the elements of surprise you need in a plot. If you are able to suspend your disbelief though, the rewards are immense, and the ending comes together in one glowing explosion of understanding.
A truly epic undertaking. A pure creative tour de force that needs to be seen to be believed.