Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows casts his eye over Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, out in UK cinemas from today. Warning: a few spoilers ahead…
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Three years after Nolan’s last film, Dunkirk, we have Tenet, a film that has been moved around and rescheduled like a jumping box of time paradoxes. In Tenet the director returns to many of his obsessions as a director. John David Washington, Denzel Washington’s son, plays The Protagonist, the never-named figure at the centre of this complex soufflé of a film, a CIA agent at the core of the McGuffin of the film. His mission is to engage with arms dealing oligarch Andrei Sator (Branagh) but he gets embroiled with his icy wife Kat (Debicki) who complicates matters.
Tenet is not an action film in the sense that we understand it but a deconstruction of espionage movies like Bond and Bourne, placing a concept that moves almost as soon as you think you understand it. It is about time travel but time travel in that classic Nolanesque form, one which speaks in riddles but also tries to make it adhere to some sort of vaguely credible scientific principles.
As with every Nolan film, his casting choices are exceptional. We have a small appearance from the director’s good luck charm, Michael Caine, but it is the principles here who command the viewer’s attention. Washington is magnetic on screen and there is real chemistry between him and Debicki. Pattinson as Neil, the Protagonist’s right-hand man, has an easy charm here and yet again he proves that there is far more to him than just a pretty boy with a past career in a hit genre franchise. He can actually act.
Branagh is very decent as the film’s villain, underplaying Saitor, which lends it extra menace that it would lack otherwise.
From its opening, Tenet pulls no punches, drawing the viewer into a strange world where most things are not what they seem. Everything from the cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema, Nolan’s camera collaborator on his last two movies (Interstellar and Dunkirk) to the production design from Nathan Crowley the score by Ludwig Goransson (The Mandalorian, Black Panther) all feeds into the muscular energy of the film.
Tenet has been released at one of the strangest times in modern history thanks to the pandemic and sitting watching it while wearing a mask just added to the discombobulation of seeing Tenet at the cinema. The film deals with questioning the reality you are in so what better time could there be for it to tell its story?
It isn’t exactly perfect, as it does suffer a little from the Nolan lack of emotional connection and sometimes the viewer does lose the plot but Tenet is a wonderfully ambitious modern twist on the espionage film. It is a movie that people will continue to talk about for years to come as it contains concepts and moments that stay with you after you leave it and in an odd perverse way, this is the ideal time to release in in cinemas. Nolan has proven yet again that he is able to create films that none of his contemporaries are able to match. Tenet is worth watching on the big screen if readers are able to catch it at cinemas as its impact will be diminished watching it at home.