Talking Movies

August 31, 2020

Tenet

Christopher Nolan’s much anticipated new film is an intricate and satisfying puzzle piece housed in a less satisfying blockbuster frame.

John David Washington is the protagonist who has a mysterious close shave with a bullet that seems to whip out of woodwork and away from him during a terrorist siege of the Kiev Opera House. Shortly thereafter Martin Donovan informs him that he has been recruited for an international mission involving Robert Pattinson’s British agent that will take them from Mumbai to London, Oslo to Tallin, and deep into the cold heart of Siberia trying to unravel the secrets of Kenneth Branagh’s vicious Russian oligarch arms dealer. An uneasy alliance forms with Branagh’s estranged wife Elizabeth Debicki, as Washington and Pattinson try to understand why an arms dealer is able to anticipate all their moves as if he already knew them, and why ‘inverted’ bullets may be the least of their worries as a wider more sinister conspiracy unfurls itself.

And so to ‘inversion’… Time travel, but not really time travel. If you liked cult Ethan Hawke flick Predestination then you will like this. If talk of closed loops, grandfather paradoxes, and the like makes your nose bleed then you will not like this. Nolan’s script features the same deeply satisfying feeling as Interstellar and Dunkirk when a piece of the puzzle slots into place and you understand that there was more going on than you apprehended first time around. But this satisfying feeling is surrounded by the scaffolding of a blockbuster that doesn’t truly stand tall when the scaffolding is kicked away. Crashing a large airplane into a building for real is great fun to watch, and the chase with cars driving inversely on a freeway is also entertaining, but there is no true knockout punch of a sequence.

Some of this is because this is less fun than Inception, almost as if Tom Hardy and JGL’s roles had been collapsed into one and Robert Pattinson (rediscovering his inner Cedric Diggory) couldn’t possibly deliver both those notes at once. Some of it is because this has less heart than Interstellar, with the Debicki/Branagh dynamic not humming as it ideally should as the emotional motor of the movie. Nolan regulars Hoyte van Hoytema and Nathan Crowley are present and correct but the largely Northern European settings are neither as crisply shot as one might expect nor as intriguingly designed; indeed the finale recalls the crumbling Russian industrial hellscape from Hobbs & Shaw. Jeffrey Kurland provides some notably sharp suits and elegant dresses for the ensemble, but Hans Zimmer’s replacement Ludwig Goransson struggles to impose himself with any truly memorable motifs.

Tenet does not reach the hoped for heights, but it is devilishly clever and always absorbing; one wonders if perhaps making it on a smaller scale, more noirish, less blockbusting, might have been wiser.

3.5/5

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