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TENET (2020) review

Neil reviews the latest epic from Christopher Nolan, TENET. The film, released by Warner Bros., is in cinemas across the UK now!

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Tenet (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Synopsis

Armed with only one word—Tenet—and fighting for the survival of the entire world, the Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time. Not time travel. Inversion.

Review

Where does one start with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet? To even try and scratch the surface of this film is as mind bending as trying to understand its complex plot.

From the moment the Warner Bros. logo displays on screen and Ludwig Göransson’s score kicks in Tenet is classic Nolan. It looks like Nolan, it sounds like Nolan and it oozes his level of sophistication.

The cold opening brilliantly sets the scene for Nolan’s take on an espionage movie. Though there’s very little dialogue in the opening minutes the actions of the characters perfectly communicate to the audience that Tenet is rooted in very familiar territory.

Only as the scene progresses does Tenet begin to diverge from the norm and begin to implement the beginnings of some absolutely crazy Nolan science-fiction.

After the title card Tenet veers off in to borderline pretentious territory as John David Washington’s Protagonist and Clémence Poésy’s Laura broach the topic of inversion. Their dialogue shifts between a noir movie style of exposition to pure technobabble which is when my mind started to melt.

It’s a common theme which runs throughout the movie. Dialogue often feels like Tenet‘s weakest point. Despite the cast delivering their lines with true conviction it just feels either too cheesy or too out there to land with the audience. Another issue to dog Nolan’s career creeps in sporadically throughout the film, there are moments when dialogue – often spoken through masks – becomes difficult to understand. The Bane-mumble-effect is well and truly at play during key moments of the film.

But even with that potential weakness I have to applaud Nolan for going all in on the subject matter.

Tenet wouldn’t work as well as it does if Nolan dumbed down the dialogue and made the film move accessible. Tenet works best because it believes in itself even though that will undoubtedly alienate members of the audience. In a similar vein to Inception and Interstellar it’s Nolan’s ability to create a unique brand of science with elevates the movie from sci-fi popcorn flick in to true masterpiece territory.

The idea of inversion, which replaces classical ideas of time travel, is genius. It throws out all preconceived notions about the film. Though it takes a while to adjust to its more accessible than some may think.

Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is nothing short of stunning. The globetrotting narrative allows Hytema to shoot a number of beautiful and bleak landscapes. Nolan’s penchant for IMAX also maximises the artistry of its set design, costume design and huge action sequences.

The colour palette is exactly what Nolan fans will expect. The development of his visual style can be traced back to Batman Begins. Here it feels perfectly in Nolan’s wheelhouse with inky blacks and murky blues paired up with muted tones throughout.

Surprisingly for a Nolan film, there are a number of predictable moments. But rather than negatively impact my experience, I found myself feeling like I had levelled up by unravelling the plot. Watching and understanding Tenet feels like an achievement.

Of the stellar assembled cast its Washington and Pattinson who stand out from the crowd. Washington’s Protagonist shoulders the brunt of an extremely complex narrative with unwavering conviction. Whilst Pattinson’s Neil is the emotional centre of the film.

Elizabeth Debicki plays against the stereotypical Bond-girl type. Kat has a strength of character and a vulnerability that Bond movies often miss in their characterisation of female characters. Her place in the narrative often feels convenient but leans in to Nolan’s love of the classic espionage tropes.

Supporting players Dimple Kapadia, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Caine and Kenneth Branagh all round out the cast with typical Nolan flair. Kapadia in particular brings a new level of sophistication to the cast whilst Taylor-Johnson feels like he’s performing his best Tom Hardy impression.

As with all Nolan movies, there’s a preference for practical effects over CGI. The in-camera effects of characters moving simultaneously forwards and backwards in the same scene are mind boggling. VFX are impressive, look for the building which explodes at the same time in two opposing timelines and try to tell me it makes sense.

It all adds up to another thrilling Nolan experience.

Verdict

Tenet is yet another outstanding cinematic experience from Christopher Nolan. Its complex narrative provides a hugely rewarding experience for viewers able to throw out all sense of disbelief.

9/10

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Tenet stars John David Washington, Robert pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clémence Poésy, with Michael Caine and Kenneth Branagh.


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