A review of the new blockbuster movie “Tenet”

“Tenet” is Christopher Nolan’s 11th film and I have viewed and admired all his previous work except his very first film which I’ve never seen. Of the movies that – like “Tenet” – Nolan wrote as well as directed, I was immensely impressed with “Memento” and “Inception” but struggled with the second half of “Interstellar”.

This is his biggest and boldest movie with a budget reputed to be around $200M and a plot whose ambition is overwhelming. Additionally this is the first major new film since five months of lockdown as a result of the coronavirus global pandemic, so both Nolan’s reputation and the revival of cinema-going are at stake. I made sure that I saw it within a couple of days of release and that I viewed it in IMAX.

From the get-go, the movie is attention-grabbing and, for the next two and a half hours, one is never less than gripped. The locations – Estonia, India, Italy, Denmark, Norway – are terrific and the action sequences – car chase, plane crash, catamaran ride, military attacks, and lots of unarmed combat – are exciting.

There’s an enjoyable cast list too, including John David Washington as The Protagonist, Robert Pattinson as his side-kick, Kenneth Branagh as the Russian villain and 6′ 3″ Elizabeth Debicki as the bad guy’s’s wife. It’s all very evocative of the Bond movies and, if you’ve ever wondered what a black 007 would look like, Washington provides one answer. 

The problem is the fiendishly complex plot which seems to be a threat to the whole of humankind as result of an issue with time called “inversion” which can only be solved with “temporal pincer movements” and a nine-part algorithm. At various points, someone does try to explain what’s going on, but the dialogue is often muffled and anyway it’s all nonsense.

Of course, Nolan has made a thing of playing with time in the films that he has written and, even with an historical event like “Dunkirk”, it has usually worked well. But I think it’s time for Nolan to give up on the time thing and try something different.

“Tenet” will do well: Nolan’s reputation and a thirst for new cinematic material will ensure that. But the movie will divide opinion – three reviewers in one newspaper have given it two, three and five stars. And I’m sure that I’ll see it again …


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