Editors Note: This article contains spoilers for the movie “Tenet”.
In Nolan We Trust. You must have seen that meme a lot as it’s quite hard to miss with the cult following surrounding the world-renowned director Christopher Nolan. And rightly so, because if Christopher Nolan is making a movie, you know damn well it is going to be an exemplary piece of cinema. And if not anything else, you know you will get your money’s worth out of it! You saw dreams within dreams in Inception. You saw a father trying to communicate with his daughter in the past using gravity in Interstellar. You saw a vigilante trying to save his town in the Batman trilogy. You got a glimpse of war in Dunkirk. And now, you get a spy thriller about an international espionage mission to stop a time bending material from “something worse than Armageddon” in Tenet.
I will admit, going in, I had no idea what the movie was about. Absolutely none. I had seen the trailer months ago – when the pandemic seemed like it would end in two months (how naive) – and understood nothing. Because just like the Marvel movies, Nolan likes to keep things under wraps. I was, however, very intrigued and excited to see what the legendary filmmaker has in store for us. And he did not disappoint!
Tenet’s title is a palindrome, spelled the same way backward and forward. That’s fitting for a story about technology that can “reverse” things, making them capable of going back in time. This movie is a big ball of confusion right off the bat. It wouldn’t be a Nolan movie if everything made sense from the get-go. You have some coherent details though, like the titular character of The Protagonist (played impeccably by John David Washington), is a CIA agent hired by a questionable government agency called Tenet to figure out who is making bullets made out of time reversing material. They fear that this material is being used to make a reverse nuclear bomb, which could annihilate the past, present and future.
During the first hour or so of Tenet, the primary emotion I felt was confusion. Because seriously, you have absolutely no idea what is going on. All you can do is keep watching and hope your questions (if you even know what questions you have) will be answered. The rest of the movie is you just going, “Oh…oh…OOOOOH,” as you start to fit in all the pieces of the puzzle. It is extremely satisfying to watch that happen. I mean, there were times I really wished the movie had subtitles because you can’t exactly make out what everyone is mumbling behind those oxygen masks and Ludwig Göransson’s bass-filled score. But even if you have to guess a bit here and there, it doesn’t really ruin anything. Besides, even though Hans Zimmer was dearly missed, the score is really good! Travis Scott also delivers an amazing bass-laden track that goes just as hard as the film. It is definitely an adrenaline booster.
Tenet has a lot of action sequences and each one is more mind and time bending than before. I mean, the movie literally opens with an opera house that is about to blow up. And as we progress further, we are met with reverse (and normal) car chases, along with hand to hand combat sequences moving forwards and backward in time. The third act literally has two teams working a massively intense attack mission with one entering the field of attack normally while the other team doing it in reverse. They also blow up a whole Boeing 747. Nope, I’m not kidding and you get to see it happen in reverse too.
Now let me talk about how good the acting was. John David Washington, although seeming a little out of place initially, does a great job portraying the titular role of the Protagonist. He had a unique and slightly cocky charm to him and it worked so well for his character. Robert Pattinson got the job of the fun guy, the Tom Hardy to Washington’s Leo DiCaprio. He is all smiles, kicks and punches! It is just a delight to watch Pattinson grow from his Twilight days and get the recognition he so rightly deserves in mainstream cinema.
We also have a Russian Kenneth Branagh as Andrei Sator, the villain of the movie. And if that Russian drawl seemed familiar to you, its because Branagh played this exact same character in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit with Chris Pine. This is where I felt a little disappointed because Nolan also fell prey to the ‘make the villain a Russian mobster who just wants to end the world for an unexplained reason’ trope. That being said, Nolan managed to weave his magic into it. Elizabeth Debicki brilliantly plays Sator’s wife stuck in an abusive love-hate relationship with him. He controls her, abuses her and uses her as bait. Debicki stunningly displays the strength and resilience it takes to try and navigate all that emotional manipulation while also trying to get out of a relationship like that. Other cast members include Michael Caine, Dimple Kapadia and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, among others and they each held their own brilliantly too.
The locations were excellent, the score was incredible, the acting was top notch and the directing was excellent as always. Nothing will make sense immediately, but all the loose ends will be tied up in a perfect bow by the end and you will be left satisfied and mindblown over what you just experienced. Is this Nolan’s best work? No. But is it still every bit worth all the money and hype surrounding it? Definitely.
I must warn you though- as someone who had not seen a movie in a cinema, particularly in IMAX, in over half a year, your head will hurt! Not because the movie will knock you over and make you scratch your heads – it will – but also because your body is not going to be used to a cinematic experience after months of bingeing on your televisions or laptops. So take some painkillers with you, you’ll need them. Other than that, Tenet is a joy to watch and definitely worth a view if you get a chance. You will also want to watch it a few more times after you finally know what happens.
That being said, if you do decide to go to a cinema, please follow necessary safety precautions, wear a mask and maintain social distancing. Christopher Nolan can only save the film industry, not you.
This review was written by a writer in the UK where cinemas are open with social distancing and mask-wearing rules in place. All measures were diligently followed.
Featured image: Tenet on Instagram.