Here it is: the only blockbuster of the entire year to be released in cinemas. And what a risk that was. Although it only made a ‘modest’ $162 million in profit, compared to the $676 million and $531 million made by Inception and Interstellar respectively, it still came out with a profit, which is sort of a miracle in itself in 2020.
Tenet is Christopher Nolan‘s most expensive movie to date, which may put a slight damper on its miraculous turnover in profits, but it is what it is. It’s no surprise it cost so much to make when you learn what it’s about and see the spectacle for yourself. The Protagonist – played by John David Washington – is thrust into a covert mission of international espionage with only one word to inform him of what is going on: Tenet. That word becomes suitably palindromic when you realise that he suddenly finds himself working two timelines – one going forward in time, and one going entirely backwards. It all comes to a sudden culmination when both timelines unfold (or retract?) before his very eyes in the present.
Confused? That’s a given. There’s no way you could understand the actual plot using only a written description, so let’s move on swiftly…
Man, where do you even start with reviewing a movie like this?
Humans don’t like being confused, so it’s completely understandable why so many people didn’t like Tenet. If you’ve seen literally any other Nolan movie (with the exception of Dunkirk), you will know to expect a lot of timey wimey crap that you won’t fully understand by the end of it. Those people have come to accept that fact, and therefore are probably the ones who enjoyed it. I am one of those people. Note: I seclude Dunkirk as it’s all relatively simplistic in timeline in comparison to Nolan’s more complex films such as Memento.
Onto some technicalities. Whilst the action and fight sequences are visually stunning (and I have no idea at all how they filmed someone fighting someone backwards and forwards at the same time??? You have to see it to believe it!), would it have killed them to get the green screen right on some of the smaller sequences? Or made sure people’s voices were in sync with their mouths? Just a thought… In what were presumably the ‘cheaper’ sequences to shoot, the visual effects department seem to make them seem extremely unrealistic, which is insane seeing as there’s a scene in which an aeroplane crashes into a bunker and it looks completely rational and like it really did happen. It’s certainly rough around the edges, but at least the big action sequences are flawless.
So the script isn’t particularly great. The dialogue is often clunky and unrealistic, but who comes to a Nolan movie for the script? We come for the mind-bending concept AND YOU KNOW IT. Whilst this one is probably the most difficult film in Nolan’s filmography to wrap your head around, the concept is there if you pay your undivided attention to it. One character quips ”Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”, and that’s exactly how you should go into this as the viewer.
Look, it’s easily not the best movie by Christopher Nolan, with The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and the aforementioned Memento being far superior even with smaller budgets. However, it is thoroughly entertaining, and even if you don’t “get” it, there’s a lot to like here. The costumes, the music, the visuals, and John David Washington to name but a few.
Where the film is lacking in cohesion and ease of understanding, it’s so easy to get through purely due to its thrill factor. To save myself a pounding headache, I won’t be watching it again any time soon, but multiple rewatches are definitely welcome in the near future.
Tenet is still a new release, and therefore is not available to rent (yet). You can buy the movie on Amazon and the Sky Store for £12.99.*
*Special shout out to my girlfriend, who bought me this movie on DVD for Christmas!
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