Tenet

Tenet ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Tenet is the most Nolan-esque film that Nolan has ever made. It’s cold, detached and technical, filled with masculine protagonists solving difficult problems. Everything from the brutally elegant fight scenes to the lack of CGI is reminiscent of his previous films- just more so.

An unnamed CIA agent finds himself involved with technology which can reverse the flow of time. He joins a group named Tenet dedicated to managing this equipment and preventing the future from interfering with the present, which is coming close to a dangerous secret which could bring the universe as we know it to an end.

The film’s playing with chronology is very reminiscent of Memento. However, because it is full of events happening both forward and backwards in time, Tenet is exponentially more confusing than any of Nolan’s previous movies. Our understanding of the mechanics of the plot only kicks in about halfway through, and twists keep coming until the last five minutes of the film. A major part of the experience of the movie is seeing the various pieces of the puzzle fall into place yourself.

Regardless of the story, the spectacular set pieces are certainly worth the price of admission, including a bank robbery, a car chase and a full scale battle between participants travelling both backwards and forwards in time. The fight scenes have a crunchy energy and great attention to detail, with lots of long takes which show the full extent of the action.

The movie is slightly more diverse than Nolan’s previous films, with John David Washington giving a suave, quippy performance as the unnamed protagonist and Dimple Kapadia also appearing in a supporting role as a gun runner with some deep secrets. Robert Pattinson is a standout as Neil, a witty, stoic British secret agent, coming off as a slightly goth version of James Bond. Kenneth Branaugh sells what could be an underwritten role as the main antagonist, a brutal arms dealer with a world-destroying secret.

A criticism of Nolan’s movies is that the female characters are usually either barely involved or mostly function as obstacles to the plot, and this will unfortunately not be alleviated here. The only major woman in the story, played by Elizabeth Debicki, feels like the most cliched character as the abused wife of Branaugh’s Sator.

Tenet is an incredible experience in the cinema to be sure, although it would probably play equally well in a home environment where there is room to pause the film and make sense of what’s actually going on. Nevertheless, regardless of the circumstances under which you see it, this is a great movie.

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