“All I have for you is a word…” (Tenet review)

After nearly six months, I finally returned to the cinema to see the most cinema worthy film. Huge practical action, a mind-boggling premise and a huge amount of noise, ‘Tenet’ is as Nolan as Nolan gets.

To say anything about ‘Tenet’ is to potentially give away spoilers best discovered on the screen, so simply stated by the marketing department; “‘Tenet’ tells the story of a secret agent who embarks on a dangerous, time-bending mission to prevent the start of World War III”. And frankly, that’s all you need to know. If you keep in mind this basic premise, you’ll be fine, because as soon as you start trying to break down the mechanics of the narrative, your mind might explode (it took Nolan nearly 10 years to work out the script…)

The cast are all entertaining to watch, though it is sometimes clear from their performances that they weren’t able to emotionally connect to the film. The leads were only allowed access to the script when in a locked room, and this does come through in the performances. A lot of the dialogue is them standing around and explaining stuff, rather than emotionally connecting with the words they’re speaking. Sometimes, the super secrecy of a Nolan set works at a disadvantage to his films, and here that is the case.

The adventure of the film cannot be understated. Like the best Bond films, ‘Tenet’ jumps from country to country without a moments thought, delivering beautiful vistas one after another. The beautiful cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema (‘Dunkirk’, ‘Interstellar’) once again manages to capture the vast spatial vision of Nolan’s narrative.

Equally vast is the action in the film, ranging from full sized plane crashes to whole abandoned cities being practically built. Nolan’s dedication to in-camera special-effects has never been more apparent, and the clever methods employed to demonstrate the temporal effects are nothing short of movie-making-magic. Add in a ‘Zimmer-Worthy’ score from Oscar Winning Ludwig Göransson (‘Black Panther’, ‘Creed’) and you have all the makings of classic action cinema.

The story itself is like a jigsaw puzzle whose design remains invisible until the last piece has been placed. The convoluted finer details of the plot will begin to unravel if you pick at them, but thankfully Nolan’s editor Jennifer Lame (Marriage Story, Hereditary) managed the unenviable job of piecing together a movie about time bending. Ultimately, the film does make sense, but it’s built on very shaky rafters.

As with many of Nolan’s films, you will experience waves of total confusion; often characters will appear without introductions, and their motivations and actions seem unprompted. If you just sit back, relax and pay attention, you should be fine, but be warned; if you’re not paying attention, you could miss one vital piece of dialogue and be lost for a while.

Overall, Tenet is a welcome return to the cinema, as well as a worthy entry in Nolan’s epic filmography. While it doesn’t peak the top 5 of his list, it’s still a fantastical spy romp that has hopefully scratched the Bond-sized itch he’d always had.

5 stars 4

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