REVIEW: Tenet (2020) Strives to Break New Ground

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Given the inevitable void that 2020 has felt like that, the first blockbuster to be released post-lockdown centring around the concept of time seems apt. Not unusual for writer-director Christopher Nolan, Tenet is a culmination of sci-fi, thriller and the social construct of time itself.

Whilst trying not to give too much away, The Protagonist (John David Washington) – a former CIA operative – now finds time at his dispense in order to prevent World War III. Various set pieces occur and re-occur in the film – ones that feel bigger in scope than anything Nolan has made before. People will remember the bank heist of The Dark Knight and the inversion of dreams in Inception, but Tenet ups the ante as practically as it can. Having principal photography in seven different countries and crashing an actual Boeing 747 instead of CGI, Nolan’s dreaded intentions of a cinema experience seem fairly obvious – as well as his goal to eventually direct a Bond movie.

The familiar aspects to his recent movies are there once more, shying away from character motivation for spectacle and an innovative idea. It’s no doubt that Nolan is a genius when it comes to telling stories – a genius who may also sleep in a room with thousands of clocks – ala Back to the Future. But Tenet is a movie far removed from some of his early work like The Prestige or Memento that seems driven on emotion, character and human empathy. And considering his budget was around the $200 million dollar mark, you can see why he may have wanted to throw everything into the experience.

Tenet is not a film that can be dissected into a sequence or moment but judged entirely as a complete product. Nolan makes it clear with his expository dialogue that the plot really doesn’t matter too much – you need to keep up or step off. Most of the plot will escape your mind due to a lack of coherent dialogue mixed with a pounding yet impressive score and sound mix, but the gist is there and the visual brilliance that is happening will keep you occupied.

The Protagonist (John David Washington) looks on whilst pinned to a chair by two thugs.
Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Nolan’s latest film is a further example of how blockbusters have evolved into worthy acclaimed movies of cinema. Whilst Nolan is nowhere near the level of Stanley Kubrick – a director he is normally compared to by his fandom – his grey, wide-spaced cinematic style is inherently unique. They may similarly strive for perfection in their work, a collection of visual brilliance, but his critiques is not of the world around him but the notion of filmmaking in itself. Labelling your protagonist ‘The Protagonist’ and muddling the structure of your film into a 1-2-3-2-1 order is not fooling anyone.

Although this may appear critical and juxtaposed with its rating, it’s no doubt that Tenet is a ferocious film that moves forwards and backwards at an alarming rate. There is no time for sub-plots, cut-aways or montages; we’re at wherever we’re at, no matter whether its ahead, behind or exactly at the same spot. Tenet is a film that may immerse you, unaware of where it may go or how it’s going to get there but when it does, it hits like one of its sound cues. Leaving the cinema will let it continue to rattle in your brain until the pieces finally fit; this isn’t a 3D game of chess but a game of monopoly where characters move forward, backwards and sometimes diagonally.

Of course, Tenet is a film for the big screen, but no one is forcing you to risk your life to watch a movie. It’s a spectacle, it’s captivating and ground-breaking, but the ground will be broken again sometime soon. Much like time, cinematic techniques can only move in one direction. noitcerid eno ni evom ylno nac seuqinhcet citamenic ,emit ekil hcuM .noos emitemos niaga nekorb eb lliw dnuorg eht tub ,gnikaerb-dnuorg dna gnitavitpac s’ti ,elcatceps a s’tI .eivom a hctaw ot efil ruoy ksir ot uoy gnicrof si eno on tub ,neercs gib eht rof mlif a si teneT ,esruoc fO

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Header Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.