Brendan Da Costa

Tenet (2020) Poster

Title: Tenet


Directed by: Christopher Nolan


Written by: Christopher Nolan


Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine & Kenneth Branagh


Produced by: Christopher Nolan & Emma Thomas

“An optimistic message for our future? Or a pessimistic one?

Reel Talk - Tenet (2020)

December 8, 2021
by Brendan Da Costa

Smart. Fast. Sleek. Though it isn’t Christopher Nolan’s best film, it is his most ambitious and, perhaps, most re-watchable. Audiences would be remiss not to catch this mind-bending, time-warping “cinexperience” on the big screen.

 

Tenet follows a CIA agent who tasked with a mission to prevent World War III—only in this time-inverted world, it has already happened.

 

The question everyone will be asking themselves isn’t whether or not Tenet is any good, but whether or not it is worth the trip to the movie theatre. Ultimately, that decision will be up to each individual respectively but for those who do decide to make the outing, Tenet won’t disappoint. It will impress.

“Washington […] glides through this film, offering up subtle humour, charm, cold intelligence and deep sentimentality as needed.”

Tenet moves along at a rip-roaring pace. It’s so fast, in fact, that it is difficult to follow the intricacies of its admittedly convoluted plot. There’s no doubt that the pace and complexity of this film can, at times, runaway with itself. Robert Pattinson even has a few lines beseeching audiences not to bother questioning the paradoxical plot playing out in front of them. But don’t let that take away from the fun. Tenet moves breathlessly from action sequence to action sequence and, in true Nolan form, every one of those action scenes feels different, new and innovative—even when we’re just seeing the same sequence from a different… perspective. There’s also enough of a linear timeline within the plot that audience members who couldn’t be bothered untying Nolan’s time-pretzel will be able to follow along just fine.

Tenet seems deliberately designed to be almost infinitely rewatchable.”

Still, unless you’re a genius with an educational background in theoretical physics specializing in temporal inversion then you’ll likely have to watch Tenet a second or third time to fully wrap your head around what, exactly, is going on. And this is where Tenet really stands out from other action flicks.

 

More so than any other action film—including Nolan’s own InceptionTenet seems deliberately designed to be almost infinitely rewatchable. Action sequences that would lose their lustre in another film could be revisited time and time again in Tenet. There’s just so much to digest in every frame. Certainly, from a viewing perspective, it’s just pure fun to rewatch the action and try to find the time inversion trickery that you missed the first time around. From a filmmaking perspective, Nolan, as always, has created scenes that offer up cinematic feats of engineering—from time inverted action choreography to on-location, in-camera authenticity. And the action isn’t the only interesting aspect of this film worthy of revisits. Even the dialogue, on a second viewing, would carry different meaning.

 

Following Nolan’s Dunkirk—which made such sparse use of dialogue that it bordered on a silent film—Tenet makes precise use of dialogue. There isn’t a frivolous word in its two-hour runtime. From a technical perspective, there are some sound mixing issues that makes that dialogue a little hard to discern at times but that’s more than compensated for by strong performances from John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh.

If Tenet serves as any indicator of what Pattinson can do with an action flick, then he should shine in 2021’s The Batman. With so much technical and narrative merit in this film, it is easy to write-off Washington’s performance as “good enough” but the BlacKkKlansman actor glides through this film, offering up subtle humour, charm, cold intelligence and deep sentimentality as needed.

“[…] Nolan, as always, has created scenes that offer up cinematic feats of engineering…”

Tenet does take a while to get to the point. It’s not really until the third act that the film divulges its theme and the inner workings of its intricate plot. Frankly, I didn’t notice that the film had charged through roughly 90minutes without mentioning its “big idea” or really even exploring the motivations of its protagonist or antagonist beyond stock character shtick—that’s just how fast and breathlessly this film moves along. Because of the film’s “late reveal”, however, it was difficult to understand the moral stakes at play and, ultimately, difficult to relate to our protagonist’s struggle—this is where Washington’s charm carried some of Nolan’s water. Nevertheless, when, finally, the film did get to the point, you are left feeling that it should have been obvious to you the whole time… if only you hadn’t been so distracted by that last mind-bending action scene—a testament to the cohesion of Nolan’s vision for this film.

 

In the end, Tenet offers up a prescient message for our times, pitting an optimistic message for our future versus a pessimistic one, wrapped up in issues relating to intergenerational tension, environmentalism, free will and determinism.

 

Ultimately, it’s not for critics to say whether audiences will feel comfortable returning to the movie theatre, but if I might offer an opinion in the spirit of the film’s optimistic outlook for our future, I would recommend audiences check out Tenet. It is deserving of the big screen.