Just when you thought that Chris Nolan has run out of ideas, enters Tenet.
Nolan’s name has been synonymous to the word “mind-bending”. From the backwards narrative of Memento, to the dream-within-a-dream concept in Inception, to the space-time continuum in Interstellar, the director has always challenged conventions in cinema, oftentimes with a non-linear narrative that serves as essential crutch to the story-telling and not just as a gimmick (hello QT!).
Tenet is no exception.
Nolan’s films have pretty simple premises: a husband seeking revenge for the wife’s rape slay, feuding magicians trying to outdo each other, a megalomaniac billionaire trying to get rid of a corporate rival. What makes his films avoid the derivative category, however, is they are infused with high-brow science concepts that, in a lesser helmsman, would fall flat.
Nolan’s latest is no exception.
Tenet is basically Clear and Present Danger on LSD.
The film introduces us to CIA agent (John David Washington) who was hired by a secret organization called Tenet (note the word – a palindrome; it’s no coincidence), giving him an assignment to trace the manufacture of bullets with “inverted” entropy, a weapon that can move backwards through time, and could in fact wipe out the past, and indeed probably the entire world as it exists.
Aided by Cedric Diggory, I mean, Neil (played by pre-Batman Robert Pattinson, looking his best to veer away from the cheesy vampire-cum-disco ball role that nearly made him a laughing stock of cinema), they infiltrated the home of an arms dealer Priya Singh in Mumbai. Turns out that the bullets were purchased by Anglo-Russian oligarch Andre Sator (THE Kenneth Branagh).
Turns out, according to Sator’s wife Ayesha, I mean, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), they learn that he has in fact pancreatic cancer, and he intends to bring down the world along with him.
Did I say it was Clear and Present Danger on LSD? Throw in some MI vibes there too because the main plot seems straight from anything that the Mission Impossible team handles on a regular basis. Except that you would be hard-pressed to see an episode of MI where the characters are travelling back in time.
Tenet plays with the concepts of entropy and time paradoxes, with both villain AND protagonists having the ability to manipulate time. It is a testament to Nolan’s skill as director that concepts in quantum physics make for great entertainment. The film is essentially a series of time jumps backwards, with the good guys trying to move one step ahead (or behind) to stop the apocalypse happening.
Strong performances around (though Branagh tends to chew the scenery one time too many). Standout is Pattinson, fast becoming a serious actor with better role choices, and Debicki, whom audience might recognize as Ayesha in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as Sator’s much put-upon wife.
Action scenes here are better than any of Nolan’s past films, showing the director having now a firmer grip on the genre since The Dark Knight, with characters moving in opposite directions, with one memorable fight scene channeling Fight Club (don’t ask – just watch) but the action edited so that they seem to be acting in reverse.
Tenet has everything a great film has – quotable quotes, fresh execution of an otherwise trite premise (almost all espionage thrillers have a megalomaniac trying to destroy the world), tight editing, and a Casablanca reference.
IMHO, the plot is anything but convoluted – it was complicated, true, but it is nothing that a few re-watches can iron out.
Should it be watched? Yes, again and again and again.
Watch it. Or maybe you have, but you did it yesterday.
4.5 Stars out of 5