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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Tenet Review: Nolan’s Time-Shifting & Mind-Bending Visual

After immense anticipation, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet will finally see the light of day in cinemas. Like every other Nolan film, nothing is ever what it seems.

Like his former works such as Inception, this too seems convoluted, profound and even the makers have also maintained this ambiguity.

Introduced as ‘The Protagonist’ (John David Washington) is recruited into a top-secret mission to prevent an unimaginable calamity. His training involves a briefing from a scientist (Clémence Poésy).

The narrative then progresses to showcase he’s then given a more gratifying gift by British Intelligence officer Sir Michael Crosby (Sir Michael Caine): a limitless credit card.

Suited and disguised as a billionaire, the main character must work with Neil (Robert Pattinson) and get close to a ruthless, staggeringly rich arms dealer, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh).

But Sator can only be reached, apparently, through his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), who works in the art world.

We then see the main character travel across the globe encountering world-class criminals (a network of international arms dealers – one of whom is Priya, played by Dimple Kapadia) and trying to confirm their connection to inversion crimes of the past, present and future.

In Inception, Nolan explores the idea of dreams/our subconscious mind, delving into layers and dressing this convoluted concept with a thrilling narrative. This time, he pursues time-inversion.

After a rather gripping start of terrorist killings in Russia, audiences are immediately grabbed by the throat, bracing us for what could be a nail-biting Sci-Fi thriller.

Whilst this might not be as edgy as some of Nolan’s, it sure is captivating. Given that the film is about saving the world from a catastrophe, it all seems quite relevant as we’ve been hit by the pandemic.

The first half of the film is quite slow and drags to a certain extent, the story doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

Furthermore, the length of two hours and thirty minutes could’ve been shortened to make the movie’s pace tighter and crisper. 

Usually, the enthralling atmosphere (which are present in Christopher’s movies) lacks significantly in this one.

One of the major reasons why is due to lack of empathy and emotional investment the viewer has with the characters.

With an angle of a mother Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), suffering abuse from her estranged husband and is separated from her son, we as viewers are unable to resonate with this storyline.

The fact that the fight to save the world almost becomes personal to the protagonist is cliched and some climax sequences are also ‘Seen That, Done That’.

At times, it almost veers into 007-mode. But the time-inversion aspect is incorporated well in the action sequences and to witness this in IMAX is a spectacular experience.

Characters witnessing the same incident from a different perspective and angle are quite mesmerising and help audiences to add up the dots.

The visual effects of time reversing during explosions and key aspects are also magnificently done.

Locations might not be extravagant, but Nolan knows well how to encapsulate places and make them instrumental characters.

What enhances these aspects, though, is Ludwig Göransson’s enchanting and pulsating score. The music enriches the thrill aspect of the film.

In fact, a special mention goes to ‘The Plan’ by Travis Scott which plays during the credits. This will definitely be loved by the masses and will stay for posterity.

The good thing about Tenet is its positive step towards progression with ethnic casting in mainstream Hollywood.

For starters, it is the first time we are seeing a black actor headline a Christopher Nolan movie and it’s about high time such representations happen.

Whilst John David Washington is smart, handsome and tries his best but he sadly lacks screen presence and oomph. The dialogue deliveries are not powerful or invigorating.

I feel an actor like John Boyega would’ve taken the character and film overall to a different level altogether. 

When we speak of ‘representations’ it is great to see Himesh Patel playing a neutral role – which is not Asian or British.

Even though his character is seen miscellaneously with an American accent, he does exceptionally and it’s great to see him gaining milestones in his career.

The legend Dimple Kapadia herself brings a sense of poise and grace to the grey yet the all-knowing role of Priya. 

It’s a sigh of relief that Kapadia gets a significant and substantial part rather than being included just to satisfy the criteria of South-Asian representation.

Nolan at least respects her calibre as a legend by giving her the opportunity to essay the character.

Robert Pattinson plays Neil, the protagonist’s protege who helps him at various points in the narrative and he does his part well (as and when needed).

Kenneth Branagh, the legend he is, essays the part of Andrei – the menacing Russian Oligarch with such ease. He brights up the screen in each portion and makes his presence felt with much peril.

Elizabeth Debicki maintains a formidable presence with her performance and is a fine actor. For some reason, the character was not solid enough for us to empathise with it.

As a character in Tenet says: “don’t understand it. You just feel it”.

This definitely might not be a flawless piece of work, but cinematically, Nolan does present a spectacular outing which just has to feel – especially on celluloid.

If you seek a visually aesthetic action film, with some mind-bending narrative which begs focus and attention, then this won’t disappoint on that front.

But given that the film raises the point that time is of the essence, how do you wish on spending that?

⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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