Tenet – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia and Himesh Patel
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan
Length: 150mins

Over the course of the last two decades, Christopher Nolan’s name has become synonymous with the sort of mind-bending action-packed blockbusters that’ll leave you wondering what happened for the last two hours, and how soon you can see it again. But behind the grand spectacles and even grander scores, Nolan is capable of weaving a great amount of emotion into his films – a characteristic often left behind in the blockbuster genre. His latest release, ‘Tenet,’ certainly ticks some of his usual boxes, whilst also looking to expand on some more complex ideas, even by his own standards.

It’s very clear that Nolan has a fondness for complexity within his stories, whether that be the multi-layered dream states found throughout ‘Inception,’ the interwoven relationship between time and distance explored within his sci-fi release ‘Interstellar,’ or even the frequent memory loss that causes the narrative to become almost cyclical in his earlier – and significantly lower budget – film, ‘Memento.’ In this way, ‘Tenet’ smoothly fits into the Nolan catalogue as another exploration into an almost incomprehensible idea, with the focus this time resting on a variation of time travel that can’t be described in too much detail without giving away a few spoilers. Either way, this is another Christopher Nolan film that requires a great amount of attention throughout, and will probably still leave you wondering what just happened.

Many people have become critical of Nolan in recent years for his use of such complex plots – and for good reason. To challenge an audience is always encouraged, but to actively deliver a film that relies on a level of attention which can completely distract from any enjoyment of what is actually playing out onscreen is an issue that many have found to recur throughout his filmography. Of course, it could be argued that there should never be a limit on just how creative a filmmaker could be, and of course this is true, but with such relentless complexity, it’s expected by audiences that there will be enough exposition to give a fair chance of understanding what happens. Whilst Nolan’s found great success in this regard with earlier films such as ‘Inception’ and ‘Interstellar,’ while still retaining a level of ambiguity that allows for intrigue on the viewers end, ‘Tenet’ seems to regard such an entry into the film’s narrative with no more than a vague disinterest. Moments of important detail are all-too-often drowned out by the overbearing score, and those that are audible come shrouded in references to philosophies and paradoxes that will generally go over the heads of most audience members – at least on a first watch. 

However, I truly believe that no one should be limited in their creativity by what those around them will make of it, and ‘Tenet’ does deliver a more sensical narrative after a repeat watch. But a film that makes sense to its audience is no less intelligent or intriguing than one that doesn’t, and In this way ‘Tenet’ appears as if Nolan has very little regard for any sort of widespread audience enjoyment, directly contrasting the very definition of a blockbuster, which like it or not, Nolan has come to be known for.

Despite all of this, there are some great moments within the film. All-round solid performances from the star-studded cast allow us to become greater invested in their characters, but is once again let down by the complete lack of any sort of emotional development. Attempts of relationships growing on-screen and playing into the narrative, which worked so well in earlier Nolan films, are completely devoid of any such care within ‘Tenet.’ The film works brilliantly as an intriguing action film, and would be greatly accepted as such if it didn’t try so hard to be something greater, without fully realising its own potential.

There’s no denying that ‘Tenet’ is an admirable feat of what can be achieved when working with the type of budgets that Nolan now has access to, and to miss such an experience would be a shame. Of course, be safe when doing so, but if you can, I would highly suggest going to see this film in the cinema, even if it is just to relive the movie magic of the big-screen experience for the first time in a good few months.

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