At the beginning of the year, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, “Tenet” was already one of my most anticipated movies of 2020.
It’s the latest film from Christopher Nolan, who, through his work on the “Dark Knight” trilogy, “Inception,” “Interstellar” and more, has made a name for himself as one of the most prolific filmmakers working today. He’s easily one of my favorites, so naturally “Tenet” is a film I’ve been anticipating since it was announced.
Nolan has a reputation for making very high-concept and complicated sci-fi films, and “Tenet” is certainly no exception to that. To be honest, “Tenet” might be the best example yet of this reputation in action. Without getting into too much detail, the film is about a mission to stop the end of the world by using technology that dilates and even reverses the flow of time.
The main character of the film is a former agent of the CIA, played by John David Washington, exclusively known as “The Protagonist.” Early on in the film, this character is recruited into a mysterious organization that is behind the efforts to stop the world’s end. The protagonist teams up with a character named Neil, played by Robert Pattinson, and the two embark on an elaborate mission to infiltrate a Russian arms dealer’s operation and stop it from ultimately causing the world’s demise.
“Tenet” is not a film made for casual viewing.
I would not recommend watching this movie on a whim. It’s extremely convoluted, and it wastes no time diving face-first into the incredible complexities of its plot and concept. In essence, it’s Christopher Nolan doing what Christopher Nolan does best — only this time he does so without any sort of restraint.
I’m not sure if there was a single moment in this film where I had 100% confidence in what was happening. I see that as both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it undoubtedly kept me engaged and enthralled with the film from start to finish, which is impressive for a film that has a runtime of two and a half hours. On the other hand, it would be very easy to just give up and mentally check out of this film as early as the first act. It’s the kind of movie you need to pay attention to, soak up every line of dialogue and actively try and piece it together while it’s moving forward at a breakneck speed.
I found the complexity of “Tenet” to be thrilling. By never being entirely sure of what was going on, I found the moments in the film where its events suddenly come together and make sense all the more satisfying. There are several moments in “Tenet” where everything suddenly clicks into place, and the viewer is given a look at what exactly the movie is trying to do right before it dives back into the thick of the complex exposition.
There’s pretty much no way anyone will entirely understand this movie after only seeing it once. It will likely take several viewings in order to get a good idea of what actually happens all the way through. I’m sure this overcomplexity will be a turnoff for a fair amount of people, and I really have no argument against that. For me, however, it not only worked, but it made “Tenet” more than just another movie to see — it made it an incredible experience to behold.
The concept of time reversion in “Tenet” was extremely intriguing and was almost mesmerizing to watch. It’s difficult to explain how reversion works exactly, but the moments in the film where time is flowing in multiple directions simultaneously are absolutely insane. Nolan really swung for the fences in terms of the complexities of “Tenet,” and even if the film doesn’t work for you, you can’t argue that Nolan didn’t at least try to provide something new and different.
Additionally, the reversion of time in “Tenet” makes for some of the best action sequences from any of Nolan’s films to date. Each of the action sequences in this film are so meticulously planned and precise that the viewer can’t help but be in awe of what they're witnessing, whether it’s a simple fist fight in a hallway or an intense, high-speed car chase.
Looking beyond the film's concept, Nolan also gathered and directed an absolutely phenomenal cast for this film. The supporting cast consists of incredible talents such as Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Michael Caine. The two leads of the film, Washington and Pattinson, give absolutely stellar performances. Following Washington’s performance in “BlacKkKlansman” and preceding Pattinson’s upcoming take on Batman, the two were already on their way to becoming some of the biggest names in Hollywood, but “Tenet” is undoubtedly going to boost both of their careers. It not only proves, yet again, that the two are powerhouse performers, but that they can also sell their action sequences extremely well.
Branagh’s performance as the Russian arms dealer Andrei Sator was one of the best performances I’ve seen from the acclaimed actor to date. Branagh plays the character with a sense of class and almost with restraint, but he isn’t afraid to really let loose when he needs to. The character is often very quiet, but he can pull a complete 180 and become terrifyingly intimidating in a matter of seconds. Branagh plays this perfectly, and he always left me wanting to see more.
There’s a lot to talk about with “Tenet.” I’m sure, as has been the case with Nolan’s other films, there will be many conversations about the film over the next few years. I imagine a fair amount of people won’t like “Tenet,” but personally I find the immense ambition of the film to be refreshing.
It’s probably the most Christopher Nolan-esque film that Christopher Nolan has ever made. As the director of wonderfully complex films such as “Memento,” “The Prestige,” “Inception” and “Interstellar,” Nolan only upped the ante with “Tenet.” He isn’t trying to cater to anyone with “Tenet,” he’s just doing what he does. He’s unapologetic in his execution of the film’s concept, and he really cements his style and reputation not only as one of the best directors working today, but also as one of the best directors that the film industry has ever seen.