Christopher Nolan’s latest film is now in cinemas (Been a while since we’ve had a new movie in cinemas) and this one might be his most ambitious project yet.
But what is Tenet about? Well, it’s hard for me to describe without spoiling anything, and the marketing deliberately left the synopsis of the film ambiguous so I will copy and paste the official synopsis from iMBD.
Armed with only one word – Tenet – and fighting for the survival of the entire world, the Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.
So from this, you can deduce that it is a Spy thriller and, like most other Nolan films, plays with the concept of time. That is all I am going to say about the plot in specifics. Before I go onto my thoughts on the film, I have some thoughts on Christopher Nolan himself.
This is going to get a little negative (just a little), but I will start with some positives. In an age where everything is either adapted from comics, reboots or long-overdue sequels, Nolan always comes to the table with something unique, and by unique I mean “taking all the acid and writing down your thoughts” unique. He had dream heists in Inception, space time travel and love magic powers in Interstellar, and now, time spies in Tenet. Not only does he make incredibly unique films, but he doesn’t have to do them with minuscule budgets. If some unknown director went and pitched Tenet to Warner Brothers, they’d laugh him out of the room. But Nolan goes into a meeting and says “I’m making a movie about time spies. Gimme $200m,” and then hushes any execs when they want more details. Then they just sign the cheque. There is something inherently gangster about all of that. So for all of this, I give him all of the credit in the world.
Now, this is where I’m going to get a bit negative. Nolan’s films have been described in the past as pretentious, and maybe there is a little truth to that. I feel like Nolan overcomplicates his movies as a way to almost, make himself the star. What I mean by that is, instead of people watching Interstellar and talking about the amazing performance of Matthew McConaughey, people talk about how they didn’t get the movie, bringing the subject back to Nolan and his writing. You could say the same about Inception with anyone from that all-star cast, and you can, even moreso, now say the same with Tenet. And this will lead me into my main criticism of the movie.
The main problem with Tenet isn’t the unnecessarily convoluted plot. It’s the lack of character development. I mean, the lead, played by John David Washington, literally doesn’t even have a name. There is one character, played by Elizabeth Debicki, who has an actual arc, and while I feel it is a generic one, at least it’s there. It is noticeably missing from everyone else here.
I have one other issue with Tenet and it’s something Nolan does with nearly every one of his movies and I can’t figure out why. The sound mixing on this is way off. What I mean by that is normally in a dialogue scene, you would have the sound of the dialogue at the forefront and the score going in the background, if at all. In this, there are multiple scenes where Nolan has the score going so loud OVER dialogue that you can’t make out what is being said. For a movie that relies on dialogue to explain what’s going on, you can’t have that.
Now, that’s enough negatives. Yes, the plot is unnecessarily convoluted but it still makes sense in the end, it just takes the windy path to get there instead of the straight path. But everything else that Nolan achieves here is pretty mind-blowing. The score, when not muting out dialogue, is fantastic. The cinematography is amazing. On a technical level, this is a masterpiece.
The action sequences, holy shit, the action sequences. There are sequences where some people are going forwards and some going in reverse at the same time. It’s mind-blowing. There is also one scene, while using this same “things going forwards and backwards at the same time” technique, where a building gets blown up and put back together at the same time. I know that doesn’t make sense but you’ll know it when you watch the movie. The craziest part is there is very minimal CGI. This is all just practical effects, and anyone that knows me and my movie taste knows I’m a big practical effects > CGI guy.
Despite what I said above about the lack of character development, the actors here all do a good job with what they’re given. John David Washington does a decent job in the lead, and while I don’t know if he will reach the lofty levels of his legendary father (Denzel), he does have a bright future in Hollywood. Elizabeth Debicki is good here. She has the best arc in the film and uses it to her advantage, making her the easiest character to relate to/sympathise with. Kenneth Branagh goes a bit over-the-top as the Russian bad guy but he buys into it which makes his performance very enjoyable when it could’ve come off as cringey. In my opinion, Robert Pattinson is the star of this. He has fantastic chemistry with John David Washington and boosts every scene he is in. He also comes across as the most likable in the entire movie.
To sum up, despite the negative things I had to say, I still rate Nolan as one of the best directors working today. Tenet is something that has to be seen, although watch it when you’re in the right frame of mind as you will need to pay attention to get it. It’s not something to just chuck on in the background. I’d say watch it in cinemas to not only support your local cinema, but to experience these crazy action sequences on the big screen. However, the sound mixing causes issues so maybe at home is the best way to watch so you can turn on subtitles or control the volume. Or maybe just do both. That’s what I’ll be doing when it releases on blu-ray.