Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
Genre: Action / Thriller
A protagonist (Washington) embarks on a dangerous mission to prevent a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) from causing the destruction of the entire world that will take him on a time and mind-bending journey.
That may well be the shortest synopsis I have ever written, but if were to add to it, that may well end up producing by far the longest I have ever written instead – as with most of Christopher Nolan’s films, there is so much going on within the plot, but it is actually best to keep any kind of summary to a bare minimum. Tenet is certainly no exception, as the fundamental story is very much just John David Washington’s protagonist (literally – he is only ever referred to with that name) trying to stop Kenneth Branagh’s scenery chewing antagonist (though he at least has a name) causing a global apocalypse. However, this being a Nolan film, how is of course very much the unique (along with many other appropriate adjectives) element of Tenet.
Of course, a Christopher Nolan film is always a big cinematic event these days, and with Tenet being the first big cinematic release since cinemas closed their doors it is an even bigger event than could have ever been imagined. Christopher Nolan is of course a great advocate of making films to be seen on the biggest screen possible, and with all involved taking a punt on releasing Tenet while the release of all of 2020s biggest films still being put on hold and the fact that Nolan actually gives us original big budget films, it certainly seems very much appropriate that it is a Nolan film that is the first big release and is almost tasked with saving cinema.
So, no pressure then Chris……
Thankfully, Tenet does deliver the goods and has all of the elements that we have now come to expect from a Christopher Nolan film, and serves as a perfect and timely reminder as to just how much of a unique and thrilling experience seeing a film at the cinema can be. Tenet is an audacious, bonkers, ambitious, immersive, thrilling and occasionally quite confusing film, and should be seen on the biggest screen possible.
What seems to make Christopher Nolan almost unique is not only that he gives us films that are very expensive, but they have plenty of brains and substance to go with the spectacular visuals and rather hefty budgets. The man has now been basically given carte blanche by Warner Brothers to do what he wants with a lot of money (and deservedly so), and Tenet is just further proof that he will be remembered as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Despite the extremely high concept of films like Inception, Interstellar and Tenet, for me one of the great aspects of these films is that they are actually extremely accessible films that can be enjoyed on all levels. Whether you wish to fully understand every minute detail of its time twisting / bending / manipulating plot or just sit back, just accept what is happening within the narrative at face value and enjoy a great action film with stunning visuals, globe-trotting dramatic locations and immersive action set pieces, Tenet delivers at every level.
It is no spoiler to say that the main plot is (quite literally) the protagonist trying to save the world, and Nolan skilfully makes sure that is enough for Tenet to work on multiple levels and neither alienate nor patronise its audience. Nolan has proved time and again that he can deliver great visual spectacle, and Tenet is no exception, as it provides plenty of stunning set pieces appropriate for the best blockbusters, and even for those that don’t want to try and figure out exactly why certain things are happening, the action sequences will still be equally as thrilling and intense. Tenet is certainly a very loud film, and we are made to feel every gunshot or punch. This is all emphasised by Hoyte Van Hoytema’s stunning cinematography and Jennifer Lame’s extremely effective editing. Of course, thanks to very fruitful collaborations with first David Julyan and Hans Zimmer, music has become an integral part of Nolan’s films, and Ludwig Göransson’s pulsating score carries on with that tradition – even if the volume of the score does sometimes make hearing some of the essential exposition dialogue very difficult.
Though Tenet is very much mainly about its (very) high concept, and so the extensive (and often genuinely necessary) exposition means that character development simply has to be left to one side, but the characters are given enough to make them worth routing for. John David Washington’s ‘The Protagonist’ is ultimately saving the world, so that gives us enough reason to route for him, but though he never quite gets the chance to show us his natural charisma in the same way that he did in BlacKkKlansman, John David Washington is still given enough to be able to show that he has star quality both in terms of screen presence and physicality, and it should not be underestimated just how important this is. In what may well prove to be one of the best on-screen bromances of 2020, Washington and Robert Pattinson do share a great on-screen chemistry, which adds an essential human dynamic to the narrative. Pattinson himself is having a great time in his role, and not only gets to wear some extremely sharp suits, but also provides some great lines.
While his attempts at a Russian accent are a little better than his compare-the-meerkat accent in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Kenneth Branagh’s antagonist, while of course an essential element to the overall plot, is particularly generic and forgettable. Meanwhile Elizabeth Debicki’s character certainly has the most emotive arc, and Nolan utilises both her physical frame and undoubted acting abilities to give her character a quite emotive and satisfying arc.
Christopher Nolan is well known for being an advocate of cinema and the unique experience it offers, and Tenet is undoubtedly a timely and much needed reminder of that. How much control Nolan had over the decision for Tenet to be the first big cinema release since most countries locked down will of course never be known, but I think we can be rest assured that he did have some influence, and not only is Tenet a deeply immersive and thrilling experience that has to be seen at the cinema, this film has actually become far more than that and is basically a calling called to all fans and appreciators of cinema everywhere. If we want auteurs like Christopher Nolan to keep on making films that are a viewing experience that is enhanced by them being seen on the big screen and the big studios to keep on paying for them, then we must all play our part by making sure that their gamble pays off and that we book our tickets to see Tenet at the cinema where it belongs!
A perfect and timely reminder of the unique experience that seeing a film at the cinema can offer: Tenet is a bold and ambitious film that serves as a stunning, immersive and thrilling experience on many levels. However, Tenet is not only a great film, but also may well be the one that saves cinema, providing we all play our part and go and see it!
It goes without saying that at time of writing, Tenet is now out at UK cinemas and we should all go and see it!