Tenet is a Seriously Complex, Mind-Bending, Sci Fi Spy Thriller

Julien Neaves, Editor

This review is hot off the press as I checked out Tenet just tonight. And can I just say how great it was checking out a movie in a cinema after what felt like forever? Seriously, I can’t even remember what was the last film I watched in an actual theatre. The pandemic had cinemas in Trinidad and Tobago closed for some time but they finally reopened last month. So yeah, it felt really good to be back on the inside.

The choice of film for my glorious return was a no-brainer. Christopher Nolan is one of the best modern directors (and one of my personal favourites) so his latest film, science fiction action thriller Tenet, was a must see. The film is about an unnamed CIA agent (John David Washington) who is recruited by a time-manipulating clandestine agency to prevent a global disaster. Here’s my spoiler free review:

While we appreciate you bringing your own equipment, you don’t need to anesthetised for a prostate exam

Now I have seen all of Nolan’s previous films so I know he enjoys playing with time in his narratives, like having most of the story in Memento told backwards, or jumping backward and forward in The Prestige. And I know he enjoys complex and layered narrative structures, as we see in Inception. With Tenet he takes this messing with time to a literal level and it is easily his most complex film to date. Actually complex just doesn’t cover it. This film is dense.

I consider myself a relatively intelligent guy, and as a seasoned movie reviewer I am usually able to keep up with the most intricate of plots and structures. But yeah this one was tough! There were several times I was not sure what was happening or why. Now they explain it, or try to in layman’s terms, and I got the gist of what was happening, but I spent a lot of time as a confused spectator. There is a line where one character asks Washington’s if his head is hurting. And I was like, “Yeah. It is. Thanks for asking.” It was like Nolan made this film so complicated that you had to watch it twice or three times to actually get it. And I think he might have gone a little bit overboard here.

Could you explain how it works one more time? I think I’ve almost got it

Another tenet (couldn’t resist) of Nolan’s filmmaking is fantastic visuals achieved with mostly practical effects. And yeah, the visuals here are very impressive and can only really be appreciated up on that big screen. The set pieces are very grand and pulse-pounding, accentuated by brilliant cinematography and terrific sound design. And the music? Wow. Academy Award-winning composer Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther, The Mandalorian) is in top form and is pretty much just showing off here.

In terms of tone and feel the film reminded me a lot of Inception (which is not a bad thing seeing that is my favourite from Nolan) with a touch of James Bond. If Nolan were to ever do a Bond film, it would probably come out like this. On the acting side Washington, who delivered a breakout performance in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, again proves himself as a strong leading man and his character’s easy-going wit was a refreshing counterbalance to the heavy world. The other performances are okay but nothing to phone home about, and Kenneth Branagh’s Russian bad guy felt strangely paint by numbers. And unfortunately the film overall does lack some of the heart of the director’s stronger efforts.

Cue the Bond theme. (Two minutes later) Yeah. That’s the stuff

I really can’t say too much more without crossing into spoiler territory. I will say that Nolan again delivered another visual and technical marvel with an interesting world, but it lacks some narrative tightness and humanity necessary to truly elevate it. In terms of the director’s filmography this one falls in the middle of the pack, though with a filmography that impressive, that’s not the worst thing in the world.

Julien’s Score: 7 out of 10

For my Top 10 Nolan Films you can click here. And you can follow RMR on Facebook here

Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film, creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.

I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.

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