Movie Review: TENET Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
The wait is finally over, and Christopher Nolan’s TENET – the most discussed and anticipated film of 2020 – has officially been released in theaters.
In case you are reading this from the future, times are strange for cinema. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and most theaters have been closed since early March. Major chains have slowly reopened, with AMC operating at around 70% capacity as of this film’s release. The last I will say about the subject is only go to the theater if you feel safe. No movie is more important than your health, so please take the appropriate precautions and follow all local guidelines if you venture to the theater.
Much of the plot of TENET has been safely guarded since pre-production, and it’s best to go into it knowing as little as possible – which can be said for most of Nolan’s films. John David Washington’s unnamed character, referred to as The Protagonist, is an ex-CIA agent recruited for a top-secret organization called “TENET.” He is tasked with saving the world from a mysterious weapon targeted by Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), with the help of new allies Neil (Robert Pattinson) and Kat (Elizabeth Debicki).
So where does the Nolan stuff come in? You’re waiting for it, and know it won’t be a straightforward heist to steal back the weapon. Skip this next paragraph if you don’t want any minor spoilers from the trailer.
Shortly after Neil and The Protagonist meet, Pattinson’s character asks if they are dealing with time travel. JDW says, “No. Inversion.” The trailer then shows JDW fire a gun, except it appears to work in reverse. The bullet jumps into the gun, and the target he is aiming at is repaired instead of damaged. So basically inverted objects move backward, and something similar happens with people who use a futuristic device.
That is a very simplified explanation, but trying to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, and use mostly information from the trailer.
TENET features some of the largest and most complicated ideas Nolan has ever created for one of his films. Whether or not it works is dependent on the viewer. It’s a film that requires your absolute attention, which won’t be hard if you are hooked by the premise from the start. However, if you’re more interested in just sitting back and enjoying what you are seeing without giving it much thought – the plot is going to seem very confusing and convoluted. I absolutely loved piecing together the puzzle and trying to figure out the implications of inversion on the world the film creates – but I realize that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. And even if you are paying full attention, there’s so much to take in that multiple viewings are required to understand all of the concepts. It’s not to say you can’t follow at all or enjoy on the first watch – but don’t even try to decipher all of it in one sitting.
John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) is fantastic as The Protagonist, and his performance here without a doubt solidifies him as a movie star. He’s going to be in-demand for big blockbuster roles after this, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from him. He harnesses the charm and charisma of James Bond, mixed with the action prowess of Ethan Hunt. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pop up in a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film in the near future.
Robert Pattinson turns in a solid performance as always, and proves his acting abilities once again for the non-believers (TWILIGHT ended over 8 years ago, so get over it. Go watch GOOD TIME). I truly believe this film will be the final stumbling block for doubters before Matt Reeves’ THE BATMAN next year, when we can all finally move forward without anyone mentioning “sparkles” or “vampires” in the same sentence as Pattinson. The actor is charming, suave, and handles himself well during all of the action.
Elizabeth Debicki (WIDOWS, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2) plays the most fleshed-out character in the film, and gives a terrific performance as Kat. We don’t know much about the characters in TENET, but Debicki is given the most backstory and motivation. I always love seeing her name attached to projects, and she does not disappoint with this one. She has great chemistry with Washington and handles herself masterfully opposite Kenneth Branagh – who plays her husband, Sator.
Speaking of Branagh, he’s a pro as usual. A real actor’s actor, the talented performer/director makes for a great villain once again (he was the big bad in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT back in 2014). His performance is downright terrifying as the sadistic arms dealer, and some of his scenes with Debicki are hard to watch just because of how real they feel. As nice of a guy he seems offscreen, he sure does make an intimidating antagonist.
While Hans Zimmer was off scoring DUNE for Denis Villeneuve, Ludwig Göransson took the reins on TENET. His score is masterful, as it pierces through your body like a jackhammer during the intense action sequences. The sound is really important to the film, so seeing it in the biggest formats with the loudest and clearest sound is beneficial (I saw it in IMAX). If you want to listen to the soundtrack, it is streaming on Spotify. It also features a great song by Travis Scott that plays over the end credits, which is a piece of the puzzle in itself as the director has put it.
When it comes to filming big budget action sequences, Nolan is known for his impressive use of practical effects. To give you a taste of the lengths he went to in capturing incredible scenes for TENET, he opted to purchase a 747 to crash into a building instead of using CGI. Because of this mentality, he gives us some of the most amazing and mind-bending sequences put to film. It was truly an experience that kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. Although I may not agree with pushing the film out instead of delaying it, I do understand why Nolan wants his vision to play out on the big screen. If you have the chance to, I recommend doing it in the largest format possible.
TENET is a film that begs to be seen on the big screen. It’s not only an exciting, action-packed spy thriller – but it’s an experience. That’s the best way to put Nolan’s latest, something that you truly “feel” as one of the characters suggests in the film. It’s a great reminder of why we need big theaters and big sound, and that we should be grateful that filmmakers like Nolan exist to push boundaries and dream up crazy ideas that no one else is able to make with the budget or scale. Although it is complicated and a bit messy at times, the achievements far outweigh the shortcomings and I know I’ll be watching it over and over again the first chance I get.