Tenet is a 2020 film, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk, Inception, The Dark Knight trilogy etc.). Tenet was the most anticipated potential blockbuster of 2020, until the Covid-19 pandemic ran havoc across the world and shut down most theatres. Tenet got released however on August 26th, 2020. However, a lack of full theatrical release resulted in it being classified as a box office “bomb” despite earning well, due to its high production costs. Success or failure, what jay-reviews-stuff.com classifies Tenet as, is a visually stunning masterpiece – a movie where Nolan shines and brings to the audience a highly complex plot filled with amazing action scenes and a thrilling, high-octane treat.
Tenet begins with an unnamed agent working for the CIA who is classified as the “Protagonist” (played by an excellent John David Washington), who participates in an operation at the Kyiv Opera House, ironically showing a crowded theatre, an incongruous sight in these troubled times. The protagonist helped by a masked soldier, appears to “un-fire” a bullet through a hostile gunman. After seizing a strange artifact, the Protagonist is captured by mercenaries who torture him but he manages to consume a cyanide pill. He awakens to learn the pill was a test of his loyalty; his team has been killed and the artifact lost. The Protagonist is soon employed by a secret organization called Tenet. A scientist shows him bullets with “inverted” entropy which allows them to move backwards through time. She believes they are manufactured in the future, and a weapon exists that can wipe out the past. The overarching idea of its plot is fairly simple. It’s about saving the world from an insanely powerful Russian arms dealer Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), who could go back and forth in time. Now, the idea is to beat him at his own game. But in execution, ‘Tenet’ is every bit the high-concept, make-believe and far-fetched flight of imagination that blends action, adventure and intrigue.
The movie reveals more details as the highly complex plot slowly begins to unravel. I won’t be sharing more of the plot with you as that would just ruin the movie for you. So, since we won’t be discussing the plot anymore, what should we discuss. Let’s eat our vegetables first and discuss the criticism of the movie – the sound mixing. Since the episode of Game of Thrones, sound and light quality is something that has begun to eat at the quality of TV shows and movies. The sound quality for Tenet is dreadful with poor sound mixing rendering dialogues inaudible. Nolan did the same during Inception, resulting in the audience often begging for subtitles to be able to comprehend the dialogues. Tenet sadly, suffers from the same problem and the dialogues often are imperceptible.
Now let’s get back to our dessert – the action sequences and the cinematography. The film’s screenplay keeps underlining and explaining its layered plot about technology that can reverse time. Thankfully, it does so with stunning cinematography and action-packed scenes that are executed with a natural flair and finesse. The idea of going back in time where everything moves in reverse, creates a visually appealing imagery. And the original background score is so unique and immersive (like any vintage Christopher Nolan film) that it builds just the right amount of urgency and tension.
John David Washington is insanely watchable as he swaggers from one fight to the next, doing chin-ups dangling over sheer drops and going through more outfits than a model in a fashion show. He’s the Black James Bond of this shadowy world, barely wrinkling his three-piece suit as he takes out bullet-headed Russian mercenaries with whatever implements he can get his hands on. He’s not the guy they send to negotiate, but he is the guy they send to get things done and look good doing it. The shadow of other superspies inevitably hangs over Tenet. A globetrotting adventure full of beautiful people doing ugly things, Tenet’s plot is built on the classic Bond film formula with a dash of Tomorrow Never Dies, a pinch of The Man With the Golden Gun, a garnish of Skyfall. Tenet gives any 007 movie a run for its money.
Yes, Tenet is pretty complicated. Even before things get all timey-wimey, you need to make an effort to keep track of what’s going on. The mission begins with a subplot about art forgery that mostly involves people sitting in dimly lit dining rooms, reeling off endless names and geopolitical complexities (made worse with the poor sound mixing) over their Michelin-starred meals. We never find out exactly what Michael Caine has ordered during his restaurant-based cameo, but as he chews over a barely comprehensible speech about secret Soviet cities, you realize it was probably the word salad. Tenet boasts an amazing cast but the complexity of the plot doesn’t give much time for any of these characters to develop fully. Kenneth Branagh is a stereotypical “Russian villain” as required by most western film-makers these days. Robert Pattinson has a strong screen presence strengthening his credentials for him as the new Batman. Elizabeth Debicki is beautiful and composed but the true screen stealer is John David Washington who fits into his role with ease.
Just like any other Nolan film, this one demands full attention from its viewer, yet there is no guarantee you will comprehend the film’s nuanced narrative in its totality or its highly complex plot. But that doesn’t take away from enjoying the cinematic experience of Nolan’s vivid imagination that is skillfully portrayed on the big screen. The secret to enjoy ‘Tenet’ lies in what a scientist, who is explaining inversion tells the Protagonist, “Don’t try to understand, feel it.”
Tenet captures the essence of this terrible year 2020. Fast-paced with several events taking place in quick succession, a feeling of impending doom and an inability to comprehend what is going on. But it provides a beautiful and amazing spectacle to witness and unlike this year it leaves you satisfied.