Tenet (2020) Movie Review
Action / Sci-fi
In the world of cinema, few directors have a distinct style as Christopher Nolan. His films are a culmination of artistry, technical prowess, and storytelling that leave viewers with a lasting impression. The same can be said for his latest film, Tenet, which is no exception to the rule. However, with a film as complex and multi-layered as Tenet, it’s hard to determine if it will stand the test of time. Despite being a cinematic experience of epic proportions, the complexity of the film can make it difficult to fully comprehend.
For transparency’s sake, it is important to state that this film was screened for a limited press in Chicago with extreme precautions that won’t be in place for most ticket buyers, at least for the next few weeks. These precautions included a 1% capacity of a huge, sanitized theater first thing in the morning. However, the intent of this review is not to encourage or discourage anyone from attending a theatrical screening at this specific time. Instead, it is an analysis of the film itself for posterity.
Tenet is a true Nolan film, with the kind of budget that only Nolan could get for an original screenplay. It’s packed with an opulent display of visuals, robust action sequences, and high-concept stories that viewers have to legitimately strain to follow. It even seems to echo previous Nolan projects like “The Prestige” and “Memento” late into the night, hoping to give Nolan fans more to chew on than ever before.
The film drops viewers into an attack on a symphony performance in Kiev without wasting any time and barely allowing anyone to get oriented. The protagonist, John David Washington, delivers a charismatic performance as he is captured by the enemy, tortured, and takes a cyanide capsule, as he was ordered to do in training. He survives, and his allegiance to the system and his orders leads to a promotion of sorts, a top-secret assignment that involves a new technology that has the potential to literally rewrite human history.
The Protagonist is taken to a remote facility and introduced to the concept of inverted objects. We look at an object and it is traveling forward through time along with us. But what if an object could go in the other direction through history instead? Objects have been doing exactly this, and the Powers That Be need to control it. Teaming up with a mysterious partner named Neil, played by Robert Pattinson, the duo tracks inverted objects to a villainous Russian arms dealer named Andrei, played by Kenneth Branagh.
On a very basic level, “Tenet” is about the extremes of unmonitored power. When one becomes so rich and powerful that they can literally shape world events, why not try to shape world history too? Andrei is very much cut from the same cloth as classic Bond villains, complete with unchecked opulence, Russian accent, and snarling line delivery. Blend Nolan’s obsession with time-twisting high concepts and his love of classic action construction and you have some idea of what “Tenet” feels like.
In conclusion, "Tenet" is a quintessential Christopher Nolan film, with a high-concept story, visually stunning action sequences, and a twisty narrative that requires viewers to actively engage with the plot. It is clear that Nolan was given a generous budget to bring his vision to life, as every frame of the film exudes opulence and grandeur. However, while the film's technical achievements are undeniable, its relentless focus on exposition can be exhausting, making it difficult for even the most dedicated Nolan fans to fully engage with the story.
Despite its flaws, "Tenet" is still a film worth watching, particularly for fans of Nolan's work. John David Washington and Robert Pattinson deliver charismatic performances, while Kenneth Branagh's turn as the villainous Andrei is suitably menacing. Elizabeth Debicki also impresses in her role as Kat, a woman caught between her loyalty to her abusive husband and her desire to protect her son.
Ultimately, "Tenet" is a film that will be remembered for its technical achievements, its complex story, and its sheer ambition. While it may not be Nolan's strongest film, it is still a worthwhile addition to his oeuvre, and a testament to his status as one of the most innovative and daring filmmakers working today.
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