Despite my love for the work of filmmaker Christopher Nolan and the incredible hype around his latest movie, I wasn’t convinced that I would watch Tenet as soon as I did, even if it has been out in theatres for a week. With a global COVID-19 pandemic and safety-first mindset, my wife and I were not initially intending on going into theatres so soon, given the risks of a crowded cinema hall. However, when I checked online how bookings were at my nearest theatre and found a show that had barely anyone watching, we decided to jump at the opportunity to see Nolan’s latest action spectacle. In total there were only six of us in the theatre watching the film, which was great for our safety, but disappointing not just for the cinema business, but because in any normal year this would be exactly the kind of movie that we would demand you see on the big screen.

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To roughly borrow from another sci-fi blockbuster masterpiece, I can’t really tell you what the ultra-secretive and twisty plot for Tenet is – it is a movie you need to see for yourself. Sure I can certainly provide very simplified bullet points for what unfolds onscreen but the less known about the plot beforehand the better, as how it is experienced is what makes it so good. It’s the kind of complex epic that needs to be seen multiple times to be truly understood and preferably on a screen and sound system that is as big and audacious as possible, to soak it all in.

Nolan is already known as one of the most ambitious filmmakers of his time thanks to his grandiose execution of bold ideas in a way that makes them both pleasing to cinephiles and general audiences alike. A rare skill that few filmmakers possess. And in Tenet, he may just have his most bold and ambitious film yet as he goes all out to give us some of the most inventive action scenes ever committed to celluloid. All the while wrapping our heads up in a narrative concept that will keep you challenged long after leaving the theatre.

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We’ve already known that the film is layered around the concept of time inversion, where certain aspects of time travel in reverse. In typical Nolan fashion though, nothing is as simple as it seems and he blasts so many different details and inversions at you, that you will want to watch this movie more than once to understand them all. Think of how layered Inception was with its concept of dreams within a dream, and then dial that up several notches, and you should have an idea of what you are dealing with here. Nolan is the kind of director who obsesses over every detail of his films and it shows in just how meticulously engineered certain sequences are. To say more might reveal too much but let me just say that your mind will be blown at some of the action twists and the cleverness in how Nolan plays with the time inversion concept.

It’s those narrative gymnastics though that could arguably be the film’s biggest pitfall and why some of the initial reviews from the movie were so mixed. Tenet is incredibly complex, and Nolan doesn’t do the audience any favours by throwing them right into the middle of things and just hoping that they will figure out most of the details along the way. Don’t expect many exposition dumps on much of what happens. If you’re not paying careful attention, you could easily miss something significant. It’s an approach that certainly allows for some truly inversed storytelling of its own as things make more sense as the film unravels, but one that can be frustrating and easily stop you from becoming immersed into the film.

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The same unfortunately can be said for many of the film’s characters, as aside from Elizabeth Debicki’s Kat, we don’t really get to know too many details about who they are. Again, part of this is intentional for narrative effect, but this also means you are also unlikely to care about them either as a result. This is not to fault any of the actors though who all do a great job in bringing the story to life with Robert Pattinson (who seems to be channeling a bit of Nolan himself in appearance and mannerisms) and Kenneth Branagh’s main antagonist putting in some remarkable turns. As for the film’s lead, John David Washington, he does a solid enough job. Though perhaps Nolan is so interested in thrusting you into the middle of his story that he never allows the character – simply credited as “The Protagonist” – to develop. While Washington remains the heart of the story narratively, you feel he is merely driving the plot and moving it from one outrageous action scene to the next.

These are criticisms that could easily ruin lesser films, but when a film is as mind-blowing as this one is in execution, it only serves as a minor inconvenience. And even once the story is complete and you’re trying to unravel how its many strands are knotted together, you aren’t going to care for some of the plot holes created along the way because you will be too enthused by having experienced it all.

The actors might be the ones bringing everything to life, but this is a Nolan vehicle through and through, with his trademark creative engineering and attention to detail evident everywhere. It is the kind of film that only Nolan can pull off with a scale of action sequences that would give most other directors pause to even attempt them with CGI – here Nolan does almost everything practically in-camera. And yes, we know that one of those unbelievably practical shots is that he really crashes a Boeing airliner into a building, but that this explosive moment is one of the simpler action sequences in the movie, perhaps explains exactly how jaw-dropping the rest of it is. Thus, is the genius of the film and the man.

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Technically, the film is a pure marvel, the practical visual effects are stunningly executed and its thanks to some remarkable cinematography and editing from Hoyte van Hoyema and Jennifer Lame respectively that makes all the details and time inversion twists fit as well as they do. These are backed up by a rousing score by Ludwig Goransson who blasts the senses with some tense and unsettling sonic pieces, especially in some of the film’s biggest moments. You may not like how the score takes priority in the mix over some of the dialogue (Yes, Nolan is once again doing some unconventional sound mixing) but I personally felt it made the film better for it.

Tenet is not perfect and arguably has some of the weakest characters that Nolan has ever created. However, its highly cerebral plot and outrageous action (if those are your things like they are mine) more than make up for it. In reflection, it is exactly the kind of film that was designed for the big screen cinema experience. Just a pity that 2020 has been a gigantic disaster of a year, both forwards and backwards, that even dwarfs Nolan’s efforts at fiery destruction. As a result, most people probably won’t get to experience Tenet in the premier format it deserves. And we’re okay with that. You can’t rewind time on your health.  

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.htlaeh ruoy no emit dniwer t’nac uoY .taht htiw yako er’ew dnA .sevresed ti tamrof reimerp eht ni teneT ecneirepxe ot teg t’now ylbaborp elpoep tsom ,tluser a sA .noitcurtsed yreif ta stroffe s’naloN sfrawd neve taht ,sdrawkcab dna sdrawrof htob ,raey a fo retsasid citnagig a neeb sah 0202 taht ytip a tsuJ .ecneirepxe amenic neercs gib eht rof dengised saw taht mlif fo dnik eht yltcaxe si ti ,noitcelfer nI .ti rof pu ekam naht erom )enim era yeht ekil sgniht ruoy era esoht fi( noitca suoegartuo dna tolp larberec ylhgih sti ,revewoH .detaerc reve sah naloN taht sretcarahc tsekaew eht fo emos sah ylbaugra dna tcefrep ton si teneT

.ti rof retteb mlif eht edam ti tlef yllanosrep I tub )gnixim dnuos lanoitnevnocnu emos gniod niaga ecno si naloN ,seY( eugolaid eht fo emos revo xim eht ni ytiroirp sekat erocs eht woh ekil ton yam uoY .stnemom tseggib s’mlif eht fo emos ni yllaicepse ,seceip cinos gnilttesnu dna esnet emos htiw sesnes eht stsalb ohw nossnaroG giwduL yb erocs gnisuor a yb pu dekcab era esehT .od yeht sa llew sa tif stsiwt noisrevni emit dna sliated eht lla sekam taht ylevitcepser emaL refinneJ dna ameyoH nav etyoH morf gnitide dna yhpargotamenic elbakramer emos ot sknaht sti dna detucexe ylgninnuts era stceffe lausiv lacitcarp eht ,levram erup a si mlif eht ,yllacinhceT

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.nam eht dna mlif eht fo suineg eht si ,suhT .si ti fo tser eht gnippord-waj woh yltcaxe snialpxe spahrep ,eivom eht ni secneuqes noitca relpmis eht fo eno si tnemom evisolpxe siht taht tub ,gnidliub a otni renilria gnieoB a sehsarc yllaer eh taht si stohs lacitcarp ylbaveilebnu esoht fo eno taht wonk ew ,sey dnA .aremac-ni yllacitcarp gnihtyreve tsomla seod naloN ereh – IGC htiw meht tpmetta neve ot esuap srotcerid rehto tsom evig dluow taht secneuqes noitca fo elacs a htiw ffo llup nac naloN ylno taht mlif fo dnik eht si tI .erehwyreve tnedive liated ot noitnetta dna gnireenigne evitaerc kramedart sih htiw ,hguorht dna hguorht elcihev naloN a si siht tub ,efil ot gnihtyreve gnignirb seno eht eb thgim srotca ehT

.lla ti decneirepxe gnivah yb desuhtne oot eb lliw uoy esuaceb yaw eht gnola detaerc seloh tolp eht fo emos rof erac ot gniog t’nera uoy ,rehtegot dettonk era sdnarts ynam sti woh levarnu ot gniyrt er’uoy dna etelpmoc si yrots eht ecno neve dnA .ecneinevnocni ronim a sa sevres ylno ti ,noitucexe ni si eno siht sa gniwolb-dnim sa si mlif a nehw tub ,smlif ressel niur ylisae dluoc taht smsicitirc era esehT

.txen eht ot enecs noitca suoegartuo eno morf ti gnivom dna tolp eht gnivird ylerem si eh leef uoy ,ylevitarran yrots eht fo traeh eht sniamer notgnihsaW elihW .poleved ot – “tsinogatorP ehT” sa detiderc ylpmis – retcarahc eht swolla reven eh taht yrots sih fo elddim eht otni uoy gnitsurht ni detseretni os si naloN spahrep hguohT .boj hguone dilos a seod eh ,notgnihsaW divaD nhoJ ,dael s’mlif eht rof sA .snrut elbakramer emos ni gnittup tsinogatna niam s’hganarB htenneK dna )smsirennam dna ecnaraeppa ni flesmih naloN fo tib a gnilennahc eb ot smees ohw( nosnittaP treboR htiw efil ot yrots eht gnignirb ni boj taerg a od lla ohw hguoht srotca eht fo yna tluaf ot ton si sihT .tluser a sa rehtie meht tuoba erac ot ylekilnu osla era uoy snaem osla siht tub ,tceffe evitarran rof lanoitnetni si siht fo trap ,niagA .era yeht ohw tuoba sliated ynam oot wonk ot teg yllaer t’nod ew ,taK s’ikcibeD htebazilE morf edisa sa ,sretcarahc s’mlif eht fo ynam rof dias eb nac yletanutrofnu emas ehT

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.mlif eht otni desremmi gnimoceb morf uoy pots ylisae dna gnitartsurf eb nac taht eno tub ,slevarnu mlif eht sa esnes erom ekam sgniht sa nwo sti fo gnilletyrots desrevni ylurt emos rof swolla ylniatrec taht hcaorppa na s’tI .tnacifingis gnihtemos ssim ylisae dluoc uoy ,noitnetta luferac gniyap ton er’uoy fI .sneppah tahw fo hcum no spmud noitisopxe ynam tcepxe t’noD .yaw eht gnola sliated eht fo tsom tuo erugif lliw yeht taht gnipoh tsuj dna sgniht fo elddim eht otni thgir meht gniworht yb sruovaf yna ecneidua eht od t’nseod naloN dna ,xelpmoc ylbidercni si teneT .dexim os erew eivom eht morf sweiver laitini eht fo emos yhw dna llaftip tseggib s’mlif eht eb ylbaugra dluoc taht hguoht scitsanmyg evitarran esoht s’tI

.tpecnoc noisrevni emit eht htiw syalp naloN woh ni ssenrevelc eht dna stsiwt noitca eht fo emos ta nwolb eb lliw dnim ruoy taht yas tsuj em tel tub hcum oot laever thgim erom yas oT .era secneuqes niatrec dereenigne ylsuolucitem woh tsuj ni swohs ti dna smlif sih fo liated yreve revo sessesbo ohw rotcerid fo dnik eht si naloN .ereh htiw gnilaed era uoy tahw fo aedi na evah dluohs uoy dna ,sehcton lareves pu taht laid neht dna ,maerd a nihtiw smaerd fo tpecnoc sti htiw saw noitpecnI dereyal woh fo knihT .lla meht dnatsrednu ot ecno naht erom eivom siht hctaw ot tnaw lliw uoy taht ,uoy ta snoisrevni dna sliated tnereffid ynam os stsalb eh dna smees ti sa elpmis sa si gnihton ,hguoht noihsaf naloN lacipyt nI .esrever ni levart emit fo stcepsa niatrec erehw ,noisrevni emit fo tpecnoc eht dnuora dereyal si mlif eht taht nwonk ydaerla ev’eW

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.ertaeht eht gnivael retfa gnol degnellahc uoy peek lliw taht tpecnoc evitarran a ni pu sdaeh ruo gnipparw elihw eht llA .diolullec ot dettimmoc reve senecs noitca evitnevni tsom eht fo emos su evig ot tuo lla seog eh sa tey mlif suoitibma dna dlob tsom sih evah tsuj yam eh ,teneT ni dnA .ssessop srekammlif wef taht lliks erar A .ekila secneidua lareneg dna selihpenic ot gnisaelp htob meht sekam taht yaw a ni saedi dlob fo noitucexe esoidnarg sih ot sknaht emit sih fo srekammlif suoitibma tsom eht fo eno sa nwonk ydaerla si naloN

.ni lla ti kaos ot ,elbissop sa suoicadua dna gib sa si taht metsys dnuos dna neercs a no ylbareferp dna dootsrednu ylurt eb ot semit elpitlum nees eb ot sdeen taht cipe xelpmoc fo dnik eht s’tI .doog os ti sekam tahw si decneirepxe si ti woh sa ,retteb eht dnaherofeb tolp eht tuoba nwonk ssel eht tub neercsno sdlofnu tahw rof stniop tellub deifilpmis yrev edivorp ylniatrec nac I eruS .flesruoy rof ees ot deen uoy eivom a si ti – si teneT rof tolp ytsiwt dna eviterces-artlu eht tahw uoy llet yllaer t’nac I ,eceipretsam retsubkcolb if-ics rehtona morf worrob ylhguor oT

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.neercs gib eht no nees eb ot sdnamed taht eivom fo dnik eht yltcaxe eb dluow siht ,raey lamron yna ni esuaceb tub ,ssenisub amenic eht rof tsuj ton gnitnioppasid tub ,ytefas ruo rof taerg saw hcihw ,mlif eht gnihctaw ertaeht eht ni su fo xis ylno erew ereht latot nI .elcatceps noitca tsetal s’naloN ees ot ytinutroppo eht ta pmuj ot dediced ew ,gnihctaw enoyna ylerab dah taht wohs a dnuof dna ertaeht tseraen ym ta erew sgnikoob woh enilno dekcehc I nehw ,revewoH .llah amenic dedworc a fo sksir eht nevig ,noos os sertaeht otni gniog no gnidnetni yllaitini ton erew I dna efiw ym ,tesdnim tsrif-ytefas dna cimednap 91-DIVOC labolg a htiW .keew a rof sertaeht ni tuo neeb sah ti fi neve ,did I sa noos sa teneT hctaw dluow I taht decnivnoc t’nsaw I ,eivom tsetal sih dnuora epyh elbidercni eht dna naloN rehpotsirhC rekammlif fo krow eht rof evol ym etipseD

Last Updated: September 7, 2020

Tenet
While it has its flaws, Christopher Nolan's new epic is filled with the levels of lofty ambition, bold innovation, and pure adrenaline that overcome those drawbacks. This is blockbuster of impressive scale that the biggest cinemas were made for... maybe just not in 2020.
8.5
/10
69/ 100

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