Tenet ★★★½


The last time I saw a movie in the theater before today was February 26, almost seven months ago. At the rate I was visiting the cinema up to that point, I might have seen thirty films on the big screen in 2020 to date instead of just ten. The pandemic has irrevocably screwed up my movie viewing this year.

So I was excited to see Christopher Nolan's time-bender "Tenet" debut in reopened theaters on September 3rd to pretty good reviews and a $21 million opening weekend. Because I had a free pass and a free popcorn coupon, I decided to brave "the crowds" and see it the following week at a 1pm matinee on Friday, September 11. It turned out I was the only person in the audience. Just me. I kid you not.

The film is certainly big-screen material. There are stunts and action sequences that a small format will not do justice to. And the sound... at many points my recliner was vibrating like a massage chair from the reverberations shaking the room. John David Washington puts in an excellent performance as The Protagonist, a CIA operative resurrected from death by the covert organization Tenet to discover the secret of an arms dealer's "trading" with the future.

The cast includes incredibly tall and thin Elizabeth Debicki as Kat, the unhappy wife of Russian gun-runner Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). She's domineered by her hubby, who holds an arrest threat over her head and the possibility of losing contact with their young son Max (Laurie Shepherd), because she mis-appraised a fake piece of Goya artwork as genuine, which cost him $9 million.

Beyond guns and ordinance, Andrei has stumbled upon the ultimate weapon: a turnstile gateway to the future or past. It allows objects and people to be "inverted," essentially reversing every action. Nolan makes great use of this concept in his high-octane chases and battle scenes. Although the theory of this sort of time travel is rather poorly presented, you will find yourself completely sucked into the "parallel realities" running in opposite directions. It's more "Mission Impossible" meets "Looper" than "Interstellar," but certainly a summer blockbuster by any measure.

Others in the cast include Dimple Kapadia as the Indian arms trafficker Priya, Robert Pattinson as the protagonist's handler/protégé Neil, Michael Caine as British agent Sir Michael Crosby, Himesh Patel as a resourceful Tenet operative, and Clémence Poésy as a Tenet scientist called Barbara. Also worthy of special note is Yuri Kolokolnikov as Sator's very scary, heavyweight henchman Quinton.

Let me note that this trip to the cinema was different from my February visit in two important ways. First, despite the sparse attendance, all patrons are required to wear masks throughout the film showing, except when eating or drinking. Yes, a manager checked in on me. And second, although Regal was a Coca Cola-aligned enterprise going into the pandemic, it is very much a Pepsi purveyor now. Goodbye Sprite, hello Mountain Dew.

If anything, this outing has given me confidence in returning to the cinema, even if my pandemic premise remains the same: cinemas may not survive the decrease in attendance, and movie viewing will never again be the same. Closures and downsizing cannot be far behind. There just isn't enough revenue coming in to warrant big multiplex operations. The old days of road shows, limited releases and single-screen movie houses may not be far behind.

TajLV liked these reviews