Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.
In a twilight world of international espionage, an unnamed CIA operative, known as The Protagonist, is recruited by a mysterious organization called Tenet to participate in a global assignment that unfolds beyond real time. The mission: prevent Andrei Sator, a renegade Russian oligarch with precognition abilities, from starting World War III. The Protagonist will soon master the art of "time inversion" as a way of countering the threat that is to come.Written by
Sir Kenneth Branagh revealed that naysayers insisted director Christopher Nolan wouldn't be able to finish the film due to the coronavirus lockdown. However, the director persisted with post-production, reducing the mixing room's team of technicians from eleven to five, and wearing masks and practicing social distancing. See more »
At the start of the film a mass shooting erupts in a packed opera house, and all everyone does is put their heads down. This is not possible. The human instinct would be to get on the floor and hide behind the seats. See more »
Spectacular. But only Nolan and Schrödinger's cat knows what's going on.
Tenet is the long awaited new movie from Christopher Nolan. The movie that's set to reboot the multiplexes post-Covid. It's a manic, extremely loud, extremely baffling sci-fi cum spy rollercoaster that will please a lot of Nolan fan-boys but which left me with very mixed views.
John David Washington (Denzel's lad) plays "The Protagonist" - a crack-CIA field operative who is an unstoppable one-man army in the style of Hobbs or Shaw. Recruited into an even more shadowy organisation, he's on the trail of an international arms dealer, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh in full villain mode). Sator is bullying his estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) over custody of their son (and the film unusually has a BBFC warning about "Domestic Abuse"). Our hero jets the world to try to prevent a very particular kind of Armageddon while also keeping the vulnerable and attractive Kat alive.
This is cinema at its biggest and boldest. Nolan has taken a cinema 'splurge' gun, filled it with money, set it on rapid fire, removed the safety and let rip at the screen. Given that Nolan is famous for doing all of his 'effects' for real and 'in camera', some of what you see performed is almost unbelievable. You thought crashing a train through rush-hour traffic in "Inception" was crazy? You ain't seen nothing yet with the airport scene! And for lovers of Chinooks (I must admit I am one and rush out of the house to see one if I hear it coming!) there is positively Chinook-p*rn on offer in the film's ridiculously huge finale.
The 'inversion' aspects of the story also lends itself to some fight scenes - one in particular in an airport 'freeport' - which are both bizarre to watch and, I imagine, technically extremely challenging to pull off. In this regard John David Washington is an acrobatic and talented stunt performer in his own right, and must have trained for months for this role.
Nolan's crew also certainly racked up their air miles pre-lockdown, since the locations range far and wide across the world. The locations encompassed Denmark, Estonia, India, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and United States. Hoyte Van Hoytema's cinematography is lush in introducing these, especially the beautiful Italian coast scenes. Although I did miss the David Arnold strings that would typically introduce these in a Bond movie: it felt like that was missing.
The 'timey-wimey' aspects of the plot are also intriguing and very cleverly done. There are numerous points at which you think "Oh, that's a sloppy continuity error" or "Shame the production design team missed that cracked wing mirror". Then later in the movie, you get at least a dozen "Aha!" moments. Some of them (no spoilers) are jaw-droppingly spectacular.
Perhaps the best twist is hidden in the final line of the movie. I only processed it on the way home.
And so to the first of my significant gripes with Tenet. The sound mix in the movie is all over the place. I'd go stronger than that... it's truly awful (expletive deleted)! Nolan often implements Shakespeare's trick of having characters in the play provide exposition of the plot to aid comprehension. But unfortunately, all of this exposition dialogue was largely incomprehensible. This was due to:
the ear-splitting volume of the sound: 2020 movie audiences are going to be suffering from 'Tenetis'! (LOL);
the dialogue is poorly mixed with the thumping music by Ludwig Göransson (Wot? No Hans Zimmer?);
a large proportion of the dialogue was through masks of varying description (#covid-appropriate). Aaron Taylor-Johnson was particularly unintelligible to my ears.
Overall, watching this with subtitles at a special showing might be advisable!
OK, so I only have a PhD in Physics... but at times I was completely lost as to the intricacies of the plot. It made "Inception" look like "The Tiger Who Came to Tea". There was an obvious 'McGuffin' in "Inception" - - ("These 'dream levels'... how exactly are they architected??".... "Don't worry... they'll never notice". And we didn't!) In "Tenet" there are McGuffins nested in McGuffins. So much of this is casually waved away as "future stuff... you're not qualified" that it feels vaguely condescending to the audience. At one point Sator says to Kat "You don't know what's going on, do you?" and she shakes her head blankly. We're right with you there luv!
There are also gaps in the storyline that jar. The word "Tenet"? What does it mean. Is it just a password? I'm none the wiser.
The manic pace of Tenet and the constant din means that the movie gallops along like a series of disconnected (albeit brilliant) action set pieces. For me, it has none of the emotional heart of the Cobb's marriage problems from "Inception" or the father/daughter separation of "Interstellar". In fact, you barely care for anyone in the movie, perhaps with the exception of Kat.
It's a talented cast. As mentioned above, John David Washington is muscular and athletic in the role. It's a big load for the actor to carry in such a tent-pole movie, given his only significant starring role before was in the excellent BlacKkKlansman. But he carries it off well. A worthy successor to Gerard Butler and Jason Statham for action roles in the next 10 years.
This is also a great performance by Robert Pattinson, in his most high-profile film in a long time, playing the vaguely alcoholic and Carré-esque support guy. Pattinson's Potter co-star Clemence Poésy also pops up - rather more un-glam that usual - as the scientist plot-expositor early in the movie.
Nolan's regular Michael Caine also pops up. although the 87-year old legend is starting to show his age: His speech was obviously affected at the time of filming (though nice try Mr Nolan in trying to disguise that with a mouth full of food!). But in my book, any amount of Caine in a movie is a plus. He also gets to deliver the best killer line in the film about snobbery!
However, it's Kenneth Branagh and Elizabeth Debicki that really stand out. They were both fabulous, especially when they were bouncing off each other in their marital battle royale.
So, given this was my most anticipated movie of the year, it's a bit of a curate's egg for me. A mixture of being awe-struck at times and slightly disappointed at others. It's a movie which needs a second watch, so I'm heading back today to give my ear drums another bashing! And this is one where I reserve the right to revisit my rating after that second watch... it's not likely to go down... but it might go up.
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