Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 30 minutes, Director – Christopher Nolan
After encountering bullets that have the ability to act in reverse The Protagonist (John David Washington) finds himself on a mission to stop what could be World War Three.
It’s become expectation when it comes to a new Christopher Nolan release that you go in knowing almost nothing. In the case of Tenet you also almost leave knowing almost nothing. The time-meddling writer-director’s latest venture sees him tinkering with the idea of reverse time. The film’s central figure, known as The Protagonist, (John David Washington) finds himself investigating mysterious bullets that seem to act backwards, moving in reverse – the power behind these reality defying objects could potentially lead to World War Three. When properly encountering the bullets for the first time The Protagonist is told “don’t try to understand it, feel it”, and this is almost the advice that Nolan is giving the audience. Don’t try to understand or keep track of the plot, just loose yourself in it. And luckily there’s just about enough within Tenet to allow this to happen.
Tenet is easily Nolan’s most complex work so far, and may potentially prove to be his most divisive. It’s easy to get lost and confused by the plot and what’s actually happening in the film however the director and his team, made up of a number of new faces compared to his regular collaborators, manage to create something thrilling enough to keep you seated for the duration of the two and a half hour run time. For months we’ve been advertised action scenes and chases that defy the regular workings of the real world and that’s certainly what we get. The thrills are definitely present and possibly even more frequently than any previous Nolan feature, including the entries in his Dark Knight Trilogy. Tension is heightened by Ludwig Göransson’s thrillingly paced score. With certain moments and phrases that sound as if they’re being played in reverse they bring back the true nature of this film, the threat that’s being faced and bring the viewer in even more.
As the second half of the film arrives the heavy plot build-up and details gradually begin to decrease and the viewer may find themselves not just watching the film but beginning to become more involved and engaged with what’s happening. They’re actually in the world of the film – and the various action scenes, often the more extended moments of the film that feel less like world-hopping and scene-jumping than one or two scenes before hand start to feel like after so long, contribute to this feeling. Admittedly there are still might not make sense, but once you’re in you mostly stay where you were, as the scale and twists and turns of the film only grow in stature and grandeur.
Yet amongst all of this the quieter – or at least less explosive – points are never forgotten. There are relationships that are explored, including a key central point that leads to many of the film’s key decisions and events. In fact such connections are the catalyst for many of the larger moments in the second half of the piece, and continue to act as fuel during them, amongst everything that goes on it’s such points not being forgotten that almost truly keep you in your seat while the world seems to go to greater chaos. You might not overly connect with the characters, although the performances in the leads of the film are all on quality form, as is to be expected from such a stellar cast (which includes the likes of Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh – with a somewhat questionable accent), but you can certainly emote for them and feel the pressure that they face. And with Nolan repeating the height of the threat that is being face – described as being worse than nuclear holocaust – the stress is translated to the viewer not just through shouting but through the panic felt. Add to that Göransson’s score and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s immersive cinematography, helping to define a number of the film’s various layers and details.
After a key mind-twisting set-piece Pattinson’s character asks The Protagonist – a name that creates almost as much mystery as the film itself – “does your head hurt yet?” To which Washington’s spy responds “yes”. At this point the audience may no longer be frantically trying to keep up with things, after they almost get a bit too much a bit earlier on, but it could reflect the feelings of some viewers. Tenet is certainly a lot, in terms of both plot and scale. Yet, there’s always something with occasional well-placed reminders and cuts to pick up on that keep you seated. The run-time certainly doesn’t show itself and this does go by fairly quickly, and it’s down to the, as always, creative work of Nolan’s team and the visuals and feelings that they help to conjure up within the viewer. The quicker you fall into the film and just watch what’s happening and don’t focus too much on the plot the more likely you are to enjoy the film. It’s best to bear in mind the advice that it gives you early on “don’t try to understand it, feel it”.
Tenet is undoubtedly Christopher Nolan’s most complex film so far, and it could very well work out to be his most divisive too. With individual technical elements that combine to keep you there, and thankful reminders of the basics of what’s happening you’re kept in your place during the finely flowing run-time for a thrilling, action-packed and mind-twisting ride. Get past the confusion of the plot and there’s a lot to like about this thriller – a genre which this definitely lives up to.