Tenet Movie Review: Many heady pleasures in a film that doesn’t exactly take your breath away

Even though Tenet isn’t exactly gratifying in its totality–and is a film that has familiar Nolan issues–it also contains many pleasures like a rousing score and some spectacular action setpieces

Let there be no doubt that Christopher Nolan enjoys his physics. Well, before an actual science expert takes offence, let me clarify that he seems to enjoy it to the extent that it can result in dramatic and visual possibilities. I can picture him poring over the fundamentals of quantum physics, of concepts like time, space and gravity, engaging science experts in conversation, whilst potentially gathering material with which he can go to play as a filmmaker. This would explain why we see him toy repeatedly with the idea of time being able to expand and contract, with the existence of dimensions beyond our understanding, with wormholes and blackholes, with the nuances of how a dream plays out in our subconscious… and more importantly, with the almost preposterous worlds these ideas can potentially conjure up on the biggest of theatre screens. You can picture him considering questions like: What if two men had a fist fight in zero gravity? What if an astronaut were able to fly in and out of a blackhole? At the beginning of this review of the latest Nolan film, I delve as much into this tendency of his to bend and twist science to conjure up arresting visuals because while Tenet is not nearly as effective as some of his previous films, it’s important to note that there are portions in this film, specifically of the action variety, that are bewitching to behold. What if we shot a fight sequence with half the characters operating chronologically and the other half operating in reverse? In fantasising over the possibilities of science, it must be noted that he is stretching the possibilities of cinema too.

Director: Christopher NolanADVERTISING

Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh

The problem with cramming in such dense material and looking to interpret it all under the restrictive boundaries of a tentpole film, is the limited leeway allotted to matters like nuance and subtlety. It’s almost a direct consequence of this that results in his films often getting criticised—and rightly so—for all the exposition that happens through synthetic conversations. Tenet too suffers from much of the same problem. Many conversations in this film are designed with the singular objective of helping you get clued into what the hell is going on. It’s almost the equivalent of the filmmaker directly narrating ideas and events to you. Take, for instance, the early conversation The Protagonist (John David Washington) has with a man, who’s debriefing him.

Recruiter: It’s a fight for survival.

The Protagonist: Whose?

Recruiter: Everyone’s. There’s a cold war, cold as ice.

Tenet is punctuated with many such laboured conversations featuring characters across the board, including Barbara (Clemence Poesy), Michael Caine (Sir Michael Crosby) and Priya (Dimple Kapadia). There may not be much joy to be had in the form of dialogues (save for the rare burst of wit), but there is plenty to be mined in the other departments.

For the remainder of this review (and there’s a lot more left, I assure you), visit Tenet Movie Review: Many heady pleasures in a film that doesn’t exactly take your breath away- Cinema express.

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