"Tenet" (2020)- Movie Review

Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki

‘A Mind-Blowing Marvel’

Not many directors in Hollywood have the ability to attract audiences to theaters like Christopher Nolan. Ever since he launched his career with “Memento” in 2000, Nolan has proven to be an advocate of the theatrical experience. With their awe-inspiring action, complex themes and dazzling effects, his movies have always been made for the big-screen. While Nolan’s films have amassed a huge fan following, they have also attracted a fair share of detractors. His movies have often been criticized for being confusing jigsaw puzzles without any meaning. Nevertheless, these criticisms haven’t deterred the filmmaker from creating groundbreaking work throughout his successful career.

Now, Nolan is back on the big-screen and his strengths as a filmmaker are undeniably evident in his latest film “Tenet”. An ambitious, mind-blowing and original sci-fi thriller, it showcases Nolan’s love for Cinema. With his long-awaited eleventh feature, Nolan has crafted a time-bending espionage thriller in the vein of classic James Bond. Packed with captivating cinematography, breathtaking technical elements and excellent performances, it is a highly effective espionage thriller. Although “Tenet” is undeniably exhilarating, ultimately it is not a flawless film. It lacks character development, and features inaudible dialogue that may leave viewers frustrated. Nonetheless, it offers exciting entertainment that will satisfy fans of Christopher Nolan.

Set in a futuristic world, “Tenet” tells the story of a spy with the ability to reverse the flow of time. John David Washington stars in the lead role as The Protagonist, a CIA agent that works for a secret organization. Assisted by a British operative (Robert Pattinson), The Protagonist embarks on a mission to prevent World War III. However, what starts out as a simple expedition soon turns complicated when the spies learn about time-inversion. As time runs out, the spies strive to save the world from a global catastrophe.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan has long been obsessed with the concept of time. His films are often characterized by non-linear narratives about the ever-changing passage of time. “Tenet”, however, marks his first espionage thriller and foray into the spy genre. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to explore the notion of time-inversion onscreen, but he pulls it off seamlessly. Using captivating cinematography, Nolan draws viewers into the life of a secret agent on a death-defying mission. From intimate close-ups to spectacular establishing shots, the cinematography keeps viewers immersed in the film’s futuristic setting. Working alongside cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, Nolan creates a fabulous film in which each frame is a feast for the eyes. Nolan excels at immersing viewers into the world of inversion, and his latest feature is worth watching on the big-screen for this reason alone.

If time-travel does not attract you to the theater, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see “Tenet”. From a technical point of view, it is arguably the greatest film that Christopher Nolan has made thus far. The action sequences, locations and musical score are all carefully chosen, combining to create an unforgettable cinematic experience. Nolan has always been a maestro at employing practical effects in his movies, and “Tenet” is no exception. Nolan’s decision to shoot the action set-pieces using practical effects rather than CGI is risky, but it works tremendously. Nolan meticulously employs real practical effects to immerse viewers into the film’s action sequences. Whether it is the airplane crash or the time-reversed car chase, the film features jaw-dropping stunts that must be seen to be believed. Moreover, the musical score is also worth mentioning. Ludwig Göransson’s electronic score is highly effective. It gives the film an unsettling and suspenseful atmosphere reminiscent of James Bond. Through awe-inspiring technical elements, Nolan keeps viewers engrossed in a world of international espionage.

Another admirable aspect of “Tenet” is the screenplay. Nolan’s greatest strength as a screenwriter has always been his ability to subvert the expectations of viewers by telling stories in a non-linear fashion. In Hollywood, most movies about complicated concepts follow a formulaic three-act structure with a clear beginning, middle and end. This often leaves no room for surprises and detracts from the quality of the movie-going experience. Thankfully, though, that is definitely not the case with “Tenet”. The film deftly switches back and forth between two reverse timelines: The Protagonists’ present-day expedition and his journey backwards in time. Using this ingenious non-linear structure, Nolan creates a film that is constantly surprising viewers. Non-linear storytelling is a tricky technique to employ in a mainstream blockbuster, but it works immensely in this movie. Using an unconventional screenplay, Nolan keeps viewers invested in the journey of a globe-trotting agent.

As usual, Nolan elicits exceptional performances from his cast. In an outstanding ensemble, every star gets the chance to shine and leave a lasting impression.

John David Washington delivers a star-making performance as The Protagonist. Following his breakthrough turn in 2018’s “BlackKklansman”, Washington has proven to be a promising actor with a knack for playing undercover spies. With “Tenet”, however, he takes on his most challenging role to date. It is not easy to get into the mindset of an agent with the power to manipulate time. It’s a physically demanding role that requires the actor to perform dangerous stunts. However, Washington pulls it off effortlessly. With riveting expressions, he conveys the anxiety, charisma and fear of a spy on a secret mission. While Washington isn’t as famous as his father, this breakout performance will definitely gain him the recognition he deserves.

The supporting cast is spectacular and also worthy of recognition. Robert Pattinson is remarkable and steals nearly every scene he is in as a suave British spy. Elizabeth Debicki is excellent and brings heartfelt emotion to the role of a woman in an abusive relationship. And finally, it is hard to not mention Kenneth Branagh. As a villainous Russian oligarch, he brings an air of menace to the movie.

Although “Tenet” is undeniably a monumental technical achievement, ultimately it is not a flawless film. If there’s a minor drawback to the movie, it suffers from a lack of character development. Nolan’s decision to focus solely on the spectacle of time-travel is bold and innovative, but it leaves little room for character development. For instance, the main character is a robotic agent that is barely given a compelling backstory. It is hard to care about certain characters when we scarcely get to know them on a personal level. Moreover, the film features bombastic sound-mixing that hinders the movie-going experience. Due to overpowering sound-mixing, it is often hard to hear dialogue during the film’s important scenes. As a consequence, some viewers may find it challenging to follow the story. In light of its issues, “Tenet” isn’t quite on par with Christopher Nolan’s finest films (ex. “Inception”).

Nevertheless, fans of Christopher Nolan will definitely enjoy “Tenet” and so will movie-goers seeking exhilarating entertainment. An astonishing technical achievement, it demands to be seen on the big-screen. At a time when Cinema has become a dying art-form, it’s reassuring to be reminded of the magic of the movie-going experience by one of the world’s greatest filmmakers.

4/5 stars

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