TENET Film Review

John David Washington and Elizabeth Debicki in Tenet (2020)

TENET is a no-expense-spared, huge spectacle of a movie but its plot is so rich with complexities and nuances that it becomes indecipherable at times

4 out of 5 stars

It’s fair to say that every time Christopher Nolan makes a movie, it’s an event. From INTERSTELLAR and INCEPTION to THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and DUNKIRK, the acclaimed writer-director certainly knows how to deliver a spectacle, so it’s rather fitting that his new metaphysical action thriller TENET is the first new Hollywood blockbuster to be released in cinemas in almost six months.

Set in a twilight world of international espionage, TENET follows an unnamed CIA operative, known as The Protagonist (John David Washington), who is recruited by a mysterious organization. Tasked with preventing Russian arms dealer Andrei Stor (Kenneth Branagh) from starting World War III with forces capable of reversing time, The Protagonist must master the art of “time inversion” as a way of countering the threat that is to come. But as he delves further into the twilight world of super-science, the full scale of the threat he faces begins to emerge.

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in Tenet (2020)

As expected, everything about TENET is on an epic scale. From the breath-taking opening action sequence at an opera house in Kiev, to the whistle-stop tour of international beauty spots, stylish costume design and elaborate set pieces – including a slow-motion plane crash and a car chase that plays out in reverse – Nolan delivers six months’ worth of big-screen entertainment in two and a half hours. This is no-expense-spared, huge spectacle of a movie which certainly benefits from being viewed on an IMAX screen.

Yet, for all its ambition – and, believe me, TENET is ambitious – the plot is so rich with complexities and nuances that, at times, it becomes almost indecipherable. There is a lot going on here – nuclear physics, thermodynamics, entropy, espionage and a constantly moving timestream which flows backwards and forwards at the same time, that the plot begins to collapse under the weight of all the strands and concepts stuffed into it.

John David Washington and Clémence Poésy in Tenet (2020)

Leading the cast is John David Washington as the cool and confident CIA agent. His physical presence certainly makes for some specular action sequences, but it’s a shame the actor’s natural charisma is somewhat muted for the role.

Thankfully, there is some nice buddy-comedy chemistry in his scenes with Robert Pattinson who plays Neil, a dapper British intelligence officer in Mumbai who makes contact with The Protagonist and provides a welcome break from the otherwise po-faced proceedings.

Kenneth Brannagh is terrifically unsettling as Andrei Stor but it is Elizabeth Debicki as his wife Kat who truly shines here, making the most of every morsel of the script by shouting, crying and smiling in a way that no one else quite does, to make a connection with the audience, unlike any other character.

Kenneth Branagh and Elizabeth Debicki in Tenet (2020)

There’s no doubt that TENET is Nolan’s riskiest film and while, at times, it is little hard to follow, there’s plenty to love about this incredibly pacy, twisty thriller. Nolan does what he does best here – showing you things you have never seen, and later, turning sequences the same sequences on their head so they become completely new.

“Don’t try to understand it – feel it,” explains Laura to the Protagonist as he attempts to wrap his brain around the science of an “inverted bullet”. Nolan seems to be saying the same thing to the audience, encouraging them to ‘feel’ and experience the film, rather than understand it. And when you do, it becomes an all-engrossing piece of cinema.

TENET is released in UK cinemas from 26 August 2020.