FILM REVIEW: Christopher Nolan’s TENET: The hype is real.


Christopher Nolan’s high-concept science-fiction spy thriller delivers on all cylinders with exemplary performances from John David Washington and Kenneth Branagh that anchor the heady epic.
There are very few modern filmmakers who can command the title of film auteur; a voice whose new work demands automatic attention from the filmgoing public at large. For the better part of the last two decades, Christopher Nolan has established himself as a true modern-day cineaste whose work redefines and reshapes what we conceive of on the silver screen. From his critically lauded The Dark Knight trilogy, to the gritty realism of war and its human cost in Dunkirk, to the mind-bending science fiction originals of Interstellar and Inception, Nolan’s work was meant for the big screen and the largest audience possible. The possibility of Tenet not getting that treatment was complicated by the specter of Covid-19. While many areas of the world have managed to contain or manage their outbreaks through contact tracing and precaution, it has largely roamed unchecked in the United States due to the political climate in the nation. As the opportunity for certain states and countries to play Tenet manifested, Warner Brothers opted for a staggered release strategy which sees Tenet hitting many parts of the United States this September 4th. If the opportunity to screen Tenet on the big screen is a possibility for you and you feel that you can do so safely, I can assure you, the film is worthy of a visit to the theater and demands the biggest screen possible. Tenet hits the same highs as Nolan’s masterpieces in The Dark Knight and Inception; with showstopping setpieces that not only take advantage of the immersive nature of the full 70mm IMAX 1.43:1 for the bulk of the film, but Ludwig Goransson’s bombastic and mesmerizing score coupled with the film’s lush international vistas and beautiful cinematography create a truly transcendent experience and redefine the limits of the spy film genre.

Tenet follows its protagonist (John David Washington) from a CIA extraction op in a Russian opera house gone awry that nearly costs him his life, to a meeting with a recruiter (Martin Donovan) who is impressed with his willingness to give up his life to follow his duty when it matters. He tells him of an organization known as Tenet and tasks him to look to it as an answer for what happened in Kiev. It is on this quest where he learns that Tenet is somehow involved with a technology that lets bullets have their entropy, their potential thermodynamic use, be inverted, so as to run in reverse through time. Taking tips he hears, he travels to India where with the help of a local fixer named Neil (Robert Pattinson), he finds the source of the inverted ammunition is a Russian oligarch named Sator (a truly chilling Kenneth Branagh). As the protagonist connects with Sator’s estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), he finds that there is much more at play than just inverted ammunition and that the fate of the whole world may rely on his actions in stopping Sator from reaching his ultimate goal.

Much like Inception, the less you know about Tenet going in, the better your journey will be as an experience. That being said, Washington commands the film with his performance. He plays his protagonist like a cross between a classic noir gumshoe and James Bond with all the swagger and command those archetypes demand. The film lives and breathes by Washington’s performance and he is amazing. Make no mistake, this is a spy thriller with the trappings of science fiction hewn on to it and it is amazing to behold. Pattinson and Washington have an easy on-screen chemistry together and Pattinson’s Neil serves much the same function as Joseph Gordon-Levitt did in Inception as our lead’s right-hand man. Debicki gives us a human face to the carnage and graft her husband Sator yields and her fragility and desire for freedom ground the movie from being just a vehicle for its fantastical impulses. Similarly, Branagh’s Sator is one of this year’s most despicable villains and Branagh has not been this chilling or believable in years and makes a worthy antagonist to Washington and the two have a great on-screen dynamic.

That being said, much like Inception, this is a film that demands your full attention and with its high-concept plot, can be difficult to follow at times. It has definite Lynchian elements at times but also feels at times like a love child between Nolan’s Inception and Shane Carruth’s Primer. Much is explained by the end, but as a viewer, you just have to hold on for the ride. But Tenet provides many eyecatching and breathtaking setpieces in getting the audience there. Tenet is a wild ride, but it is a worthy one. Nolan has crafted another heady epic that rivals Inception and Interstellar in the reward it offers viewers who are fans of Nolan’s oeuvre. A journey littered with tremendous performances and riveting setpieces as it reaches its inevitable final stop.