Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Tenet is the story of a secret agent who takes part in a mysterious mission involving time travel as he is able to manipulate the flow of time to prevent from a major event from happening. The film is a sci-fi action thriller that explore the idea of time but also the perspective of others as this agent finds himself in a strange world. Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Himesh Patel, Clemence Poesy, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Martin Donovan, Fiona Dourif, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh. Tenet is a visually-sprawling yet messy film from Christopher Nolan.
The film follows a CIA agent who joins a mysterious organization to stop a madman in unleashing the end of the world through time travel as he learns how to manipulate the flow of time and help the madman’s wife in retrieving her son. It is a film that is filled with complexities as it play into the idea of time paradoxes and the flow of time where this agent finds himself dealing with not just these mysterious figures including another agent but also other people whom he has to battle. Christopher Nolan’s screenplay is filled with a lot of complexities but also a narrative that explores this unnamed figure that is known mainly as the Protagonist (John David Washington) who is first seen in a mission at a concert hall in Kyiv to retrieve an object and then he sees something where it was largely a test for him where he joins this secret organization. He meets his handler Neil (Robert Pattinson) who is often vague about what he knows as they target this Russian oligarch named Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh).
In order to get to Sator, the Protagonist and Neil approach his estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) to get close to him in the hope she can regain regular contact with their son whom she is unable to see often. She agrees to help them as it involves all sorts of objects that they need to retrieve yet the script is also filled with a lot of exposition into the world that these characters are in as it relates to inverted objects that rewind into an object and all of these ideas of time paradoxes. It is an aspect of the film that isn’t just overwhelming but it does drag the story at times as there are moments where scenes are recreated from another perspective in its third act as it play into the idea of past, present, and future but Nolan does make it confusing at times.
Nolan’s direction is definitely vast as it is shot on multiple locations such as Oslo, Mumbai, the Almafi coast in Italy, Estonia, Denmark, Britain, and the U.S. including some studio-created sets shot in Los Angeles. Nolan creates a world that is vast as it opens at a music hall where a concert performance is happening and then a group of terrorists come in and terrorize everyone leading to a battle between terrorists and the military yet the Protagonist is part of a group that is trying to do something else and fight off whoever they can. It is definitely a great way to start the film as there is a lot happening but it also reveals what the Protagonist is encountering when he sees a bullet hole disappear all of a sudden as if it never appeared. Nolan also include a lot of wide shots of buildings and these large windmills as it play into the world that the Protagonist is a part of where he goes to India to meet a mysterious arms dealer in Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia) who serves as the mastermind of her business with her husband Sanjay (Denzil Smith) as its face. The film also feature these dazzling stunts and fight choreography in the way Nolan presents this world where things move forward and backward as if it is a dance of sorts. Even in some of the intimate fights where Nolan uses medium shots and close-ups as there is a lot of attention to detail in what is being shown.
Nolan’s usage of wide and medium shots play a lot into the scope of the film as well as how big the world the Protagonist and his cohorts encounter as well as in some of the locations that include coastal ports and windmills in the middle of the sea. The close-ups do play into some of the intimate moments but also in some suspenseful moments but the film does drag in scenes that do involve lots of exposition as it does get overbearing and confusing at times. The film’s third act is essentially a recreation of scenes from the first half of the film but it play into a different perspective for the Protagonist as well as others as it play into the ideas of fate and reality. Even for those who feel trapped by their own reality and need a way to make sure that they can control the future without having to control the future of others. Overall, Nolan crafts an exhilarating yet clunky film about a secret agent going on a mission that involves time paradoxes and the fate of the world.
Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its wondrous approach to natural lighting for some of the daytime exterior scenes of these vast locations as well as some stylish usage of lights for many of the scenes at night. Editor Jennifer Lame does brilliant work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts, montages, and other stylish cuts to play into the sense of confusion and chaos that looms throughout the film. Production designer Nathan Crowley, with set decorators Emmanuel Delis, Kathy Lucas, and Anna Pinnock plus art directors Toby Britton, Rory Bruen, Eggert Ketilsson, and Jenne Lee, does amazing work with the look of some of the places that the characters go to including some of the factories that Sator owns as well as buildings and such for some of the film’s elaborate set pieces. Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland does fantastic work with the costumes from some of the stylish clothing that Kat wears to the tailor-made suits that the Protagonist and Neil wear as well as some of the clothes that Sator wears.
Special makeup effects artists Toni Bisset and Melanie Askamit do terrific work with some of the scars and such for some of the characters in the violence they encounter. Special effects supervisor Scott R. Fisher, along with digital/visual effects supervisors Andrew Jackson, David Lee, and Andrew Lockley, does excellent work with the visual effects in its emphasis to look and feel real in the highway chase scene as well as the battle scene in its third act. Sound designers Richard King and Kathie Talbot do superb work with the sound in the way objects sound though it often clashes with the score as it overwhelms the dialogue at times. The film’s music by Ludwig Gorransson is wonderful for its mixture of hypnotic electronic music with bombastic orchestral swells to play into the suspense and drama though it could’ve been mixed down as the soundtrack also features an unnecessary and awful piece by Travis Scott in the film’s final credits.
The casting by John Papsidera is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Denzil Smith as Priya’s husband Sanjay who is the face of an arms trafficking business, Laurie Shepherd as Kat and Sator’s son Max, Jack Cutmore-Scott as a storage facility manager named Klaus, Yuri Kolokolnikov as Sator’s bodyguard Volkov, Martin Donovan as the Protagonist’s CIA boss Fay, Clemence Poesy as a scientist named Barbara who introduces the Protagonist to the concept of inverted bullets, Fiona Dourif as a military officer who is part of a task force as she also does some exposition, Himesh Patel as a wise-cracking fixer named Mahir, and Michael Caine in a one-scene appearance as a British intelligence officer in Sir Michael Crosby who provides some information to the Protagonist as well as what he would face.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson is excellent as the military commander Ives who knows about the idea of time paradoxes and such where he helps out the Protagonist and Neil while also having some motives of his own. Dimple Kapadia is fantastic as Priya Singh as an arms trafficker dealer who is part of a secret organization as she gives the Protagonist clues on what he will face but also has her own interests into Sator’s plans in the hope that she can benefit from whatever the Protagonist does to stop Sator. Kenneth Branagh is brilliant as Andrei Sator as this Russian businessman who deals in illegal businesses as he also has the power to manipulate time as he is hoping to profit from this as he has extremely personal reasons to end the world no matter the cost.
Elizabeth Debicki is amazing as Sator’s estranged wife Kat as a woman who is trapped in a loveless marriage as she decides to help the Protagonist and Neil in stopping her husband in the hopes she can see her son much more as it is a performance full of complexities and emotional gravitas. Robert Pattinson is incredible as Neil as the Protagonist’s handler who helps the Protagonist with the missions while also knowing things that the Protagonist doesn’t know as it relates to time paradoxes and such where Pattinson brings some wit into his performance. Finally, there’s John David Washington in a phenomenal performance as the Protagonist as this unnamed CIA agent who takes part in a mission where he finds himself learning to manipulate time but also deal with all of these complexities as it is a performance full of intensity and determination despite some of the confusing aspects of the script.
Tenet is a remarkable yet overwrought film from Christopher Nolan. While it does feature some incredible visuals, amazing stunt work, a great ensemble cast, and some chilling music pieces. It is a film that has a lot to offer in terms of its action and suspense yet it tries to be complex for its own good where its emphasis on exposition tends to drag the film as well as be confusing. In the end, Tenet is a marvelous yet flawed film from Christopher Nolan.
Christopher Nolan Films: Following (1998 film) - Memento - Insomnia - Batman Begins - The Prestige - The Dark Knight - Inception - The Dark Knight Rises - Interstellar - Dunkirk - (Oppenheimer) - The Auteurs #13: Christopher Nolan
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I just rewatched this recently and I agree it's remarkable but overwrought. Even after reading a ton of articles on this, the plots are still quite confusing. But there are plenty to enjoy, love the various locations, esp Amalfi Coast! The visuals by Hoyte van Hoytema are great to look at and the score by Ludwig Gorransson is one of my fave scores. I actually like Pattinson a lot here, which makes me excited to see The Batman tomorrow night!
@Ruth-As much as I enjoyed the visuals, the action, and the performances as well as Gorransson's score. I was confused into what I was watching and all of that exposition and such gave me a headache. I think it tries to be overly smart but it ended up working against it as I hope Oppenheimer has a better script. No more of these uber-complex films from Nolan. Please.
"Overwrought" is a good way to put this. There's definitely a story here and something potentially interesting, but a good part of the way through it I more or less decided that I didn't really care that much any more.
I agree completely that it wants desperately to be seen as being very smart. Instead, it's just complicated in lieu of being smart. Sometimes, complexity is just complexity. Inception was complex but easy to follow. This is just...complex for the sake of ego, or so it appears.
@SJHoneywell-Exactly. What I loved about Inception was that although it was a complex film, you had characters and a story that was engaging which made it easy to follow. You're right about what the film was trying to do but it was trying to go into so many directions on what is happening to the point that your brain gets fried. I love Christopher Nolan but he just can't beat us over the head with all of this uber-intellectual bullshit.
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