Through Time Inversion, I Communicated With the Future For this Review.
Felix Quiñonez Jr.
With Tenet, Christopher Nolan proves that he’s one of the most exciting and ambitious directors working in Hollywood today. The movie so confidently charts its own path that you’d have a hard time finding anything to compare it to. Its epic visual thrills are, only, matched by its extraordinary emotional scale. And the dense jigsaw puzzle of a story will have you on the edge of your seat even when you’re scratching your head.
The movie’s many enthralling, visually dazzling, extraordinary set-pieces could make it easy to forget that this is the same director who began his career as an indie auteur. His first movie Following had a $6,000 budget and was as far removed as imaginable from the big-budget movies Christopher Nolan is now synonymous with.
On the surface, it might seem like an extreme 180-degree turn. But a more in-depth assessment makes it clear that the themes and techniques that define Nolan’s blockbusters were there from the beginning. So, this change could be seen more as a natural progression than a dramatic departure. Christopher Nolan didn’t shed his skin to fit into the blockbuster filmmaking mold; instead, he reshaped Hollywood in his image.
Perhaps the real change that happened was that he now has the budget to realize his vision entirely. In that sense, Tenet fits in perfectly with the movies he has been making all along. More importantly, Tenet is a movie that only Christopher Nolan could have made.
The movie stars John David Washington as a secret agent who joins a mysterious group fighting to save the entire world by preventing World War III. Naturally, this mission takes him all around the globe and requires some international espionage. And of course, he is joined by glamorous, and shadowy teammates played by Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki, among others.
In a reliably Nolan-esque fashion, their adventure is a race against, (with, through, alongside?) time. Along the way, each of their hidden motivations become clearer. Although the purpose of the mission is ostensibly about stopping WWIII, as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that heroism isn’t the only thing driving the characters. And at one point, they’ll be forced to choose what’s more important to them, their desires or the mission.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that even revealing their names could qualify as spoilers. And this is a movie that deserves to be seen without ANY spoilers, about its plot or otherwise. In fact, I hesitate even to call it a plot, as that doesn’t really do it justice or even correctly describes what the movie provides. A better way to describe it would be to call it fragments of a story falling into place in a seemingly chaotic but perfectly crafted manner. Watching it all unfold in front of you is a treat unto itself.
Christopher Nolan, who has always had a gift for picking great actors, perfectly cast Tenet. You get the feeling that he labored intensely to find the perfect actor even for the smallest roles. But at the end of the day, it’s the main actor’s performance that can make or break a movie. And John David Washington delivers a powerhouse of a performance. If there was any doubt left about whether or not he’s a movie star, this movie erases and obliterates every last trace of it. He’s in great company too. Robert Pattinson has quietly turned into a great actor in some criminally overlooked indie projects like Good Time. But between this and The Batman, it seems like he’s ready to return to the limelight. He appears more confident and at ease than he ever did. It’s safe to say that he’s come a long way from his Twilight Days.
But it’s Elizabeth Debicki who’s the real surprise of the movie. She absolutely shines in the role. You’re never quite sure what side she’s on, but that’s part of the fun. She gives a star-making performance and confidently owns the screen, often stealing scenes right from under her male co-stars.
Some people claim that Christopher Nolan’s movies can be a little too self-serious, but Tenet has plenty of levity, and at times, it is genuinely funny. By this point, everyone knows to expect incredible visual effects from his movies, and Tenet delivers in spades. You get the sense that every dollar of its colossal budget was well spent. Even as you’re watching it all happen with your own eyes; you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. You might get the urge to pinch yourself because it’s hard to believe it all. But even though it gets dangerously close, the movie never reaches the level of self-indulgence.
Tenet comes as close to cinematic perfection during its first 90 minutes or so as any movie ever has. The movie expertly blends some of the most exciting set-pieces ever put to film, real emotional depth, charming humor, and confident, concise storytelling. The movie feels so light on its feet; you practically expect it to float away. It is the product of a confident filmmaker in full command of his craft.
However, from here, the movie could prove a bit controversial. Would it be a Christopher Nolan film without a late-game twist? Like many Nolan movies before it, Tenet has a hell of a turn in its second act, and as usual, this could turn off some viewers. Whether or not one thinks this turn is a cheap act of misdirection or a genuinely surprising twist will undoubtedly impact their ultimate opinion on the movie.
The film loses a bit of its momentum, and it saddles the characters with less than elegant dialogue clearly meant to be expository. They might as well be talking to the camera. But it doesn’t come close to ruining the experience. Fortunately, Nolan manages to stick the landing with a genuinely satisfying and moving conclusion that comes dangerously close to a happy ending. Seriously, it can’t be stressed enough that you should avoid spoilers at all costs. But suffice it to say that the movie’s unique relationship with time allows it to give characters what they want, even if those things seem to be at odds.
In a way, Tenet feels like a perfect culmination of Christopher Nolan’s work. It combines the big-budget special effects wizardry of Inception, the emotional grandiosity of Interstellar, and the stripped-down, concise filmmaking of Dunkirk. It builds on what came before and turns it into a breathtaking, thrilling, and emotionally satisfying ride. It is as exhilarating as it is heart-wrenching.
It’ll be exciting to see where Christopher Nolan goes after this. In a way, Tenet almost feels like the end of a chapter for him. We’ve seen him evolve from the low-budget indie auteur to the king of Hollywood Blockbusters. But you almost get the sense that he’s taken this phase of his career to its logical conclusion and that a new chapter awaits him. In hindsight, it’s easy to understand why Nolan was so adamant about showing Tenet in theaters. Movies like this are the reason we go to theaters in the first place.
*This review is a work of fiction*