Christopher Nolan has earned an enviable reputation of producing highly anticipated, original event films, of which plot details are kept closely under wraps. Since the global pandemic forced cinemas to close for months on end, no other film (bar The New Mutants) has faced such a tumultuous journey to the screen. Following numerous delays and plenty of backlash for the lack of PVOD release, Nolan and Warner Bros.’ latest release hopes to be the major cinematic tent pole, hopefully sparking a return to the movies. Due to the sheer scope and immersive experience of the film, it certainly lends itself to being seen on the biggest screen possible.
The Protagonist (John David Washington) is enlisted into a secret arm of a the CIA; armed with a singular code word ‘Tenet’ and mission – avert the ever looming end of the world. Working with fellow British agent, Neil (Robert Pattinson), their investigating into a unique set of bullets leads them to dangerous arms dealer Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) and a time bending plot which could trigger world war three.
Heist, science-fiction, war, superhero, neo-noir thriller – you name it, Nolan’s attempted to bend and subvert it. The British director brings his signature visual style and cerebral, nonlinear storytelling to each genre, with his attention fixed firmly on the espionage flick in his latest offering. This is Nolan’s take on Bond through and through, all the key elements are included; superb action pieces including car chases, lavish suits and dresses, global locations and Russian villains – but dialled way up to 11. And because it’s Nolan, there’s obviously a number of twists around the exploration of time (well reversing an object’s entropy) included, with Tenet proving one of the most mind-bending and immersive of the auteur’s stories.
The complex, multi-stranded plot demands numerous viewings, with key pieces of the puzzle dotted like breadcrumbs throughout the film, often hurriedly revealed in the middle of a dialogue exchange when you least expect it. Both the action and twists and turns are relentless; blink and you’ll miss something. The many layers of the mission are often bewildering and hard to wrap your head around, at one point Clémence Poésy’s scientist even comments “Don’t try to understand it” – and I think that’s the best way to approach this film. Yes this is possibly the least accessible Nolan outing to date, even surpassing Interstellar, but the pure cinematic spectacle is far more of an experience than your average blockbuster.
John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) leads a hugely talented, star studded ensemble. The skilled lead effortlessly excels in the action set pieces, whilst exuding both charisma and charm. The central pairing of Washington and Pattinson is full of endearing chemistry, but The Batman star has a knack of stealing scenes as the posh, floppy haired Neil. While The Protagonist acts as the audience’s entry into the narrative, Neil makes for the heart of the film – with this fan crying out for a spinoff featuring more of their escapades. The tumultuous relationship between Branagh and Debicki is full of emotion and truly captivating, with each of the actors intriguingly hiding their own agendas and secrets.
But where the film truly sets itself apart from the biggest action blockbusters is the jaw dropping, non-stop set pieces, perfectly accompanied by Ludwig Göransson’s intense score. Opening with a nail biting siege at the Kiev Opera House, the action is truly relentless, featuring certain events in the film’s mind-bending third act which I don’t think have been attempted on film before. Once you get your head around backward bullets and reverse car crashes, you’ll find yourself in awe of the insane set pieces playing out on the screen. Nolan is a huge fan of using as much practical effects as possible, and he’s achieved a real feat with this film, casually crashing real 747s in the attempt of making this the most authentic and engaging movie yet.
The most audacious Nolan film to date; Tenet is pure cinematic spectacle. The score, mind-bending original concept and utterly immersive action make for a truly unique experience – just don’t expect to fully understand it.