Film review:Tenet

The most anticipated blockbuster of the year is phenomenal, says Linda Marric


After months of uncertainty, pushbacks and confusion over which territory might get to see it first, Christopher Nolan’s latest sci-fi mindtwister Tenet is finally getting the cinematic release it deserves. Easily the most anticipated blockbuster of the year, the film has been shrouded in the kind of mystery usually afforded to Marvel or Star Wars events. Nolan (Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk), who took more than five years to write the screenplay, presents one of his most daring sci-fi narratives yet and the results are truly phenomenal.

John David Washington plays The Protagonist, a member of a secretive global organisation. Together with a group of highly trained operatives, he must find a way to halt the start of World War 3. Faced with the prospect of battling a mysterious enemy, he must team up with Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), the ex-wife of criminal mastermind Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), in order to complete his mission.

From the outset, it’s important to point out that one must be especially careful regarding spoilers when discussing Tenet, for those who haven’t seen it yet. As with any Nolan narrative, a number of very intricate ideas are beautifully laid out here. Some of these ideas are undeniably smart, and even those aspects that border on the preposterous side of things cannot hinder our overall enjoyment of the film.

Revisiting ideas he had already broached in his brilliantly underrated space saga Interstellar, Nolan is back again to his favourite subject, Time. He presents us with various deeply philosophical questions about the passing of time and its effect on who we are and on our own actions. These themes help to make Tenet so much more than just another sci-fi spy thriller.

That said, for a film which prides itself on its innovative outlook, its portrayal of gender roles can feel surprisingly old-fashioned – in particular  Elizabeth Debicki’s characte, forever oscillating between damsel in distress and femme fatale. Clearly Nolan is aiming to mix classic spy tropes with modern sci-fi, and to some extent he has succeeded, but there’s little doubt that many column inches could be filled in the coming weeks, berating him on this aspect of the film.

In the absence of Nolan’s longtime musical collaborator Hans Zimmer – reportedly too busy as he has been composing the score for next year’s release of Dune – composer Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther) has taken his place and provided an oddly but appropriately Zimmeresque score.

As The Protagonist, John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) brings a vulnerability to the role which would have been hard to replicate by any other actor. He adds gravitas and likeability to his character, all the while displaying a certain air of menace throughout.  Elsewhere, Branagh gives an amplified, scenery-chewing performance as the villain of the piece, while Robert Pattinson puts in a truly electrifying turn as the enigmatic Neil. He plays him with a sharp and classy campness and a cut-glass English accent which could easily be reminiscent of a classic Bond character.

With hints of Robert A. Heinlein’s All You Zombies, Tenet plays around with ideas of paradox and space and time continuum, while making them seem like perfectly natural subject matters. The result is an admittedly uneven film, but by far Nolan’s most ambitious yet. Expect to be confused, entertained and enchanted in equal measure.

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