Tenet – Review

Tenet, the film they said would save cinema … Christopher Nolan makes a return to the big screen in 2020 with his all new sci-fi thriller, a film which he has written and directed.

The film follows John David Washington as The Protagonist (yes that really is his name; yes, it’s very lazy) and the film’s events are told in his chronological perspective. We open up with an epic action scene at an opera house and the film’s inciting incident, which introduces the plot that it will follow over the course of the next two and a half hours.

The film has a simple, yet extremely complicated plot (because of course, it’s Christopher Nolan, you’d expect nothing less), especially towards the third act of the film, it’s very easy to get lost and mixed up with all the different time streams and time jumping. It can be a bit much, and for me almost certainly required a second viewing just to get my head around that third act.

Alongside John David Washington is Robert Pattinson (a man forever trying to elude the “Twilight pretty boy” and prove he’s a good actor) as Neil. Elizabeth Debicki stars as Kat, the romantic love interest of the film whilst Kenneth Branagh is the stereotypical evil villain Sator, a Russian oligarch that wants to destroy the world. The casting, for the most part, is actually pretty solid and they do a great job of keeping the film entertaining and fluid.

If you’ve seen some of Nolan’s other films, you’ll know he likes to play with his narratives and Tenet is no exception to that. Borrowing from Memento (2000) and Inception (2008), Nolan seeks to bring out the best of his work from over the years with Tenet.

Sometimes it feels like you need PhD in Quantum Physics to understand what on earth is going on. It’s very easy going for the first act, plodding along in a standard action thriller way, however, it’s when the element of reverse time is introduced into the film does it really flip your head onto its axis, and sends you spinning.

It feels like Nolan has written this to be confusing for the sake of confusing, to try and say “I’m cleverer than you!”.

Holding this strange time element together, is what boils down to a very stereotypical run-of-the-mill plot. The stereotypical bad guy, who of course is Russian because this is an American film, wants to get this Plutonium to try and tear the world apart. If you took away all the time elements then really all you’d have is a really dull, done before, film. These confusing time elements are all that separates this from the typical, switch yourself off, modern Hollywood blockbusters.

Whilst the plot isn’t the strongest aspect of Tenet, the visuals and spectacles almost certainly are. Shot on 70mm and IMAX film, it feels like the proper old school cinema of long ago. That’s something Nolan really excels at with his films, keeping the old traditions alive through classical means of filmmaking and screening.

Initially, I saw this IMAX at The Printworks, on that gorgeous screen in the films full 1.43:1 aspect ratio. And that’s really how this film is best experienced. Nolan makes films for the big screen, and they should be seen on the big screen.

The film has some excellent visual effects, with the reverse time being the absolute standout moments of the film. Nolan is a man that likes to do his effects practically (another dying trend of Hollywood this man keeps alive) and they’ll be what you remember of this film. They look incredible and I, for one, won’t be surprised when this beats Sonic The Hedgehog (2020) to the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Sound design is also a big standout. The sound really booms across the auditorium. It’s electrifying and makes you vibrate like madman in your seat.

It’s loud. Very loud. Maybe too loud? I think most cinemagoers would agree that Tenet was just a bit too loud for them, especially if you’re sensitive to noise. It also disrupted how well you can hear the dialogue in the film. It’s a shame, because the score is really good and should be heard, but at the same time it’s nice to know what’s actually being said by the characters in the film.

Nolan has made a pretty decent film here. The plot is a disappointing showing, however, the film’s big effects and good sound design really carry this up.

It’s by no means Nolan’s best work,  and will probably sit nearer the bottom in debates to come. However, Tenet has been a somewhat bright light in what has otherwise been a worrying year for the box office.

It’s exactly what cinemas needed after being closed for months, and certainly will be remembered for that.


2 thoughts on “Tenet – Review

  1. Pingback: Fraser presents his Top 10 films of 2020

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