Alexa, play The Boys Are Back In Town by Thin Lizzy! After almost four months without the pleasure of a real cinematic experience, the doors of my local Curzon finally opened on Wednesday, and honestly, things didn’t feel that different! I’m used to seeing movies in the middle of the day when all the normal people are at work, so I’ve effectively been watching socially distanced films for years! And after so long in the wilderness of on demand video, what better way to ease myself back into the cinema than with a nice, easy, straight forward action adventure, right?
WRONG. It will surprise absolutely nobody in the world to hear that Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s latest high profile offering, is nothing short of an assault on the mind, AND the body. In as succinct a description as I can muster, the film tells the story of an unnamed protagonist (John David Washington) who embarks on a time bending and manipulating mission to prevent a World War III that is already taking place in the future. Honestly, the less said about the plot the better, because well, you know, Nolan.
There is also, of course, the fact that if you were to offer me a million pounds right here right now to fully explain Tenet to you, I simply would not be able to. I’m not kidding when I say that this film makes the complexity of Inception look like Mary Poppins. Die hard fans of Christopher Nolan will no doubt relish this Rubik’s cube of a movie, but for someone like me who really only has a basic interest in the minutia of science-fiction, a two and half hour narrative of which 85% feels completely impenetrable is just not the kind of film watching experience that I want to have.
In many ways, Tenet feels like the very best and the very worst of Christopher Nolan all in one package. His aversion to overuse of CGI means that you are treated to some truly stunning visual set pieces, a lot of the action throughout the film is absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately, he also has an aversion to ADR, which results in a vast portion of the film’s dialogue being borderline inaudible. My seat was literally shaking from loud explosions, and at the same time my ears were working overtime to try to make out simple conversations between characters. Quite honestly, when his films tend to rely on heavy exposition in the dialogue to help audience understand what the hell is going on, it feels like Nolan is just taking the piss at this point. I don’t care whether or not the effect is intentional, the sound mixing is truly awful.
If, like me, you very quickly start to detach from the plot, Tenet at least has an array of high quality cast to enjoy and keep you watching regardless. As ‘Protaganist’, John David Washington oozes a modern secret agent kind of cool and charisma. Clearly taking after his father Denzel in the leading man department, there is something about Washington that effortlessly holds your attention, and that is actually a theme among the main players in this film.
Making a sneaky claim for MVP of the movie is Robert Pattinson as Neil, ‘Protaganist’s’ mission partner. His role in the film is one laden with spoiler alerts, so all I’ll say is that Pattinson is a prefect screen partner and just like Washington, he oozes an effortless charisma and performs brilliantly in the action set pieces. I’d be more than happy to see either actor as the next James Bond!
Another highlight for me is Elizabeth Debicki as Kat. Her role as the wife of central antagonist Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) is the closest thing that the film gets to an emotional hook. Christopher Nolan has always struggled to inject as much craft into his characters as he does his wider plots, and again Tenet feels quite cold in the same way that Inception did, but Debicki does extremely well with a character some critics have had problems with. As for Brannagh, he is in full Russian Bond villain territory here, sometimes it works, sometimes it feels a little parodic.
Overall, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m not planning on visiting Tenet again. I have no doubt that a second and third viewing would help to cement the mechanics of the plot on my mind, but ultimately I’m just not willing to spend the time with a film that I can’t even hear properly to begin with. Christopher Nolan is almost trolling us at this point, and I’m not enough of a fan to let him get away with it. There is a reason why Dunkirk is probably my favourite picture in his filmography, there is hardly any fucking dialogue to have to decipher. I’m happy to be back in the cinema, but I’m not all that happy about Tenet.