Tenet – 2020

Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Himesh Patel

An undercover operation in a Kiev opera house goes sideways. Unnamed CIA Agent, known as “The Protagonist,” thinks that he swallows a cyanide pill. He awakens later to discover the strange artifact that he encountered on the mission has been stolen and the rest of his team dead. The head of the project assigns The Protagonist to research a bullet that he was exposed to during the mission. This bullet, it is explained, is inverted, as to move backward through time.

How and why this is happening is explained a few times in the film. It has to do with a Russian arms dealer (Branagh) who has found a way to communicate with the future. I don’t want to explain more of the plot because not only am I not sure I completely understand what happens, I also think it’s best if you enjoy task of learning within the frenetic pace firsthand.

Whether or not the explanation for events makes complete sense or not, I completely enjoy Nolan’s efforts to entertain us in ways that others cannot touch, conceptually. This is his at least the 5th film in which Nolan has explored the concept of time and it adds a dimension that no special effect can touch.

That is not to say there aren’t special effects to this film. It’s a ridiculous and fascinating series of conceptual and practical effects. My particular favorite has to do with a destroyed building that is put back together, only to be destroyed in a different manner. You literally have to see it to believe it.

Washington is spectacular in a role that would seem thankless, given the amount of constant exposition that is required. He manages to sprinkle bits of character throughout the process, making the events feel more like the adventure they are intended to comprise. If this film is made into a series, Nolan could not have picked a more interesting lead. He’s enough of a mystery, it will be a pleasure to discover him in pieces. I look forward to everything he does in his bright future.

Pattinson is another incredible weapon in the story. His companionship is mysterious: he’s a handler that the Protagonist trusts until questions abound. We ask those questions a bit earlier, but are lost in the flurry of events that constantly demand our attention. He has an ability to disappear inside of his supporting roles to the point that the viewer just takes for granted they’re seeing the real deal.

The rest of the supporting cast ranges from great (Kapadia, Taylor-Johnson) to good (Debicki) to just a bit too much cheese (Branagh’s overly affected accent). Nolan is not one for letting actors get in the way of the plot, so there is nothing to complain about, overall.

Tenet is a very good film, which is to say it is an average film for Nolan by now. If you didn’t like Inception, this may not be your cup of tea. Washington and Pattinson should be worth it for most people on the border of seeing this or not.

This is a great idea for a tent-pole to a franchise. Nolan has only worked on one of those so far, and it wasn’t for something that is completely his own. There is a lot of sequel potential here, but only if Nolan continues himself. It’s the kind of plot device that could go straight to hell if not handled right.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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