On my personal list of most highly anticipated movies of 2020 you would have found Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” near the top. One of my favorite directors whose works more often than not stretch the boundaries of storytelling to their absolute limits, Nolan’s eleventh film both embraces and builds on the filmmaker’s signature style, themes and approach to cinema serving up possibly one of his most complex narratives to date focusing on the idea of time as a nonlinear concept in a battle for the fate of the world and human history. Sporting a loaded cast of big and small names and presenting viewers with a challenging mix of genres and ideas with some entertaining flair, “Tenet” is a difficult package to unwrap but proves to be one of Nolan’s most ambitious and enjoyable films yet.
Focusing on the unnamed Protagonist, played by John David Washington, Tenet takes our hero into the world of inversion as he is recruited by the mysterious organization Tenet to help stop a Russian oligarch named Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who is dealing bullets provided to him from the future that have been inverted, meaning that instead of firing the bullets revert back into their weapons. This technology also allows Sator and his henchmen to travel backwards in time as well. Assisted by his handler Neil (Robert Pattinson) and Sator’s estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) the Protagonist soon discovers he has become wrapped up in a Cold War for the fate of history itself where time is an illusion used as a weapon to get the upper hand. If that plot sounds confusing well this movie might be too much for you, but like all Nolan films “Tenet” requires a certain commitment and attention to detail to fully understand what’s happening before you.
Serving as a slick mix of science fiction and spy film, in fact it was inspired by Nolan’s love of James Bond movies, “Tenet” takes viewers on a spectacular mind-bending ride that forces us to be as open minded as the Protagonist as to how everything works. I can’t go too deeply into the narrative without spoiling or even confusing you, so I’m going to focus mostly on the technical aspects, acting and presentation in this review. While the science behind it all and the way inversion plays into the narrative might be hard to understand at first, “Tenet” is like a fine wine. You can’t appreciate it immediately. It takes time and patience. When allowed to breath and given the proper commitment by its viewer this is a fantastically complicated, but coherent story that challenges how science fiction stories and time travel narratives can be told. Early on I will admit I found myself getting a little impatient, wondering when the film would get to the point. But I remembered that in every other Nolan film, namely “Inception”, “Momento” and “Dunkirk”, all I had to do was sit back, enjoy the experience and wait and see what happens. Eventually it all makes sense. That certainly proved to be the case for “Tenet” as trying to put the puzzle pieces together early on will only frustrate you because you don’t even realize what pieces you’re missing yet.