Tenet (2020) Review

Tenet (2020) Review

Tenet (2020)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenwriter: Christopher Nolan
Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, Clémence Poésy, Himesh Patel, Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Time is up. Or, is it? The latest time-bending sci-fi leaning action blockbuster epic from the world’s leading director of high budget original fare has sought to invite audiences back into cinemas with the warm and open arms that only the medium of film can offer, and in this fresh and rapid classic spy-thriller-inspired adventure, Nolan has delivered. Tenet is a timely reminder that we all need cinema; that through time (both forwards and backwards) these are the adventures that have shaped us the most, that have provided us with our most fond memories and have sculpted what we consider to be film, the adventures that have truly impacted the people of the then and now, the adventures that stand the tests of time and speak of our limitless creative pursuit of absolute adventure and transportation.

Christopher Nolan has spoken at length in the limited press for this film of his intention to update the globe-trotting spy-thriller formula, best realised in the 1960s in titles such as James Bond and The Ipcress Files, for a modern worldwide audience, his mantra to add action and world-ending stakes the likes of which we haven’t seen before providing the backbone of this thrill-ride adventure that is a festival of cinema both old and new; an intelligent and knowing refresh of the old formula in something recognisable and simultaneously unique – a film that seeks to go backwards to go forwards. The result is that Tenet, as a spy thriller turned blockbuster with a simple macguffin-chasing narrative twisted until it’s almost unnoticeable, absolutely works, the picture overcoming a typically laboured and exposition-laden Nolanian opening to gather pace at an unrivaled rate, thrilling in all of its elements, whether they be world-leading stunts, beautiful locations, its immaculate photography or its mind-bending narrative.

One of the early critical confrontations Tenet has been met with is the argument of logic holes and ill-informed science, and with a formula that demands you go along for the ride and often laughs off any theories or applications of logic, there is credence to this perspective. But to judge a blockbuster such as this by means of logic and scientific opinion alone is to reduce the immaculate construction of its every element into the most basic of analyses. In the case of Tenet, criticisms such as this amount to little more than the criticisms leveled at James Cameron’s Titanic because of how Jack (DiCaprio) can also fit on the floating door, the perspective holding credence in terms of logic to some, but the opinion also departing from any meaningful understanding of genre convention or the importance of the character’s death to that particular narrative. In the case of Tenet, as is the case for Titanic, arguments about the science amount to little more than nitpicks that misunderstand genre convention, filmmaker intention, and ultimately the very reason for stories to exist.

This sticking point is one that will be off-putting to a relatively large percentage of filmgoers however, especially if you have become accustomed to more simplistic narratives filled with the kinds of dialogue that pinpoint the filmmakers’ intentions at every possible opportunity. In this respect, Tenet is more Interstellar than Inception. It asks that you go along for the ride and trust that, in the universe it presents, the science works and the reality said science helps to shape is inhabited by those we journey with. There will be a disconnect for some pursuing the all-seeing eye that most film narratives provide, but for those willing to surrender to Tenet’s wholly unique world, there are gifts aplenty – thrill after thrill, heart-stopping moments of action and an emotional core that will resonate with even the most hardened of Nolan fans.

Tenet is also arguably very much a self-aggrandising directorial effort in that it showcases an intelligent, almost pretentious understanding of filmmaking in every aspect, sometimes coming across like Nolan giving himself a firm pat of the back. But to tear down the creative endeavour and technical achievements in editing, photography, visual effects, score and performance because of how the film recognises the weight of each contribution would also be reductive, and would vitally overlook the achievements of this film in each aspect. Nolan here seems at his most philosophical, inviting every moving part of his production to fulfill the largest of creative obligations and thus illustrating the importance of each, combining the fantastic and heart-pounding work of Ludwig Göransson’s score with the immaculately designed cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema and the vitally important editing of Jennifer Lame and so on and so forth. Could it be shorter? Sure. And it could certainly have benefited from dedicating more time to the true emotional core of its narrative – Elizabeth Debicki’s wonderful turn as a grief-stricken, abused and imprisoned woman at the heart of John David Washington’s adventure – but at 2 hours and 40 minutes, you’ll not feel like a minute was wasted and will be itching to dive back into the universe right away, pleased for your every minute in this unique and inspired world.

Tenet is an extraordinary blockbuster that has come just in time for our most extraordinary summer. It is a film that promised something the likes of which we had never seen before, and in incorporating the familiarity of classics along the way, has absolutely delivered on that promise. This is science fiction, thriller, spy movie and blockbuster all in one, and is an unmissable cinematic experience in every aspect. Whether you’re looking to be thrilled by cinema’s most seductive elements or you’re wishing for a film you can unravel and analyse, Tenet has it all. Be invigorated, surprised, thrilled and inspired by the work of a filmmaker like no other on the planet.


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