One word isn’t always enough…
While it’s being hailed as the savour of modern cinema in these times of global pandemic with film fans mostly having been unable to get their cinematic rush, Tenet isn’t quite that. What is though is a slick action thriller that just gets a little too complicated and pleased with its never ending explanations about “time inversion” for its own good.
Armed with only one word – Tenet – and fighting for the survival of the entire world, the Protagonist (John David Washington) journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time. Not time travel. Inversion.
Only a fool would try and deny the shiny levels of spectacle that a storyteller like Christopher Nolan can bring to big screen, but as Tenet dazzles it also lays bare a lack of any real emotional core dumping us straight into the action.
Even though this film falls into the category of “lesser” Christopher Nolan films that isn’t taking away from anything that we see visually. The film looks flat out stunning and with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema we get the scope we are used to in his films. It’s all incredibly fluid and it makes for a visually delicious kind of experience that we don’t get from action movies. As a critic I can’t remember the last time a movie like this felt so incredibly fluid from beginning to end and with a musical score from Ludwig Gorannson pushing it along there’s no wonder it’s so easy to get swept up into the visual ballet that this film unfolds.
However, where it fails is in the science fiction of “time inversion”. Not that it’s particularly hard to follow, just that it goes out of its way to keep explaining itself and it sucks most of the emotional joy out of the film.
Even before it gets all “explainy” there just isn’t a whole hell of a lot of emotional investment in the characters…some of whom don’t even have actual names. Instead the movie relies on the action to drive it all, which can work…but it would have been nice to give a damn about some of these people in between all the explanations that they were shouting at one another. Plain and simple, Nolan needed another set of eyes on this because while it may have made sense and been engaging for him, it only kind of hits the mark and that’s in part to some very good performances from his leads.
John David Washington as “The Protagonist” is a flat out movie star in the mold of his father, plain and simple. He commands the frame at every turn, not necessarily with action movie swagger but genuine bad-ass bravado as man who know exactly what he is capable of, a man who doesn’t hesitate when faced with the burning building, a man who knows how to kick down all the necessary doors. Elizabeth Debicki more than carries her own as a desperate woman with an in for a very terrible man who is intent on bringing down the world.
Sadly these are the only two characters that really had to act, Robert Pattinson was more of a supporting player, Aaron-Taylor Johnson just delivered his lines too fast and some one really needs to tell Kenneth Branagh to stop playing rich Russian bad guys. I’m sure it’s fun, but it’s so one-dimensional that it just gets boring after awhile.
Ultimately, Tenet is an entertaining diversion and worth heading back to the big screen for (depending on your own health and your areas situation in regards to the current COVID-19 Pandemic) but its lack of genuine emotional depth means that you really don’t need to rush to appreciate this action on the big screen either. Go when you feel comfortable…but do GO see it as big as you can.