Sunday, 20 September 2020

TENET (Movie Review)

So I finally managed to see TENET, after what has felt like a lifetime of anticipation. Originally slated to come out on the 17th of July, the movie would get pushed several times, before finally beginning its international rollout on the 26th of August. And the film wouldn't be hitting Nigerian shores until the 11th of September, after our cinemas were finally given the go ahead to reopen amidst the ongoing pandemic.

But Lagos cinemas being their own bred of special, they didn't actually manage to reopen until today. So you can guess how I'd decided to spend my afternoon. It is almost as though they had heard my mini rant during my review for The Devil All the Time, but I'll attribute the timing to pure coincidence for now. Anyways, back to TENET.

So I finally got to see the movie, after spending the last couple of weeks dodging spoilers left, right and center. Speaking of which, I'll be keeping this review as spoiler-free as possible, so expect to hear nothing beyond what was already shown in the trailers. What follows are my scattershot thoughts about the movie, and why I believe it is a must-see for all Christopher Nolan fans.

The movie stars John David Washington as the Protagonist, a CIA agent that is seemingly brought back to life after a botched hostage situation. It turns out the whole thing had been some kind of elaborate recruitment exercise, and now he is part of a secret organization called TENET. Their job is simple: prevent the breakout of World War III and the end of all life as we know it. But it is in the manner in which their world is being threatened that things start to get interesting.

Apparently, scientist in the future have devised a means of time travel through a process called inversion, whereby certain objects can move backwards through time. And some of those objects have managed to find their way into the wrong hands in the present day. Now, the Protagonist must work with another man named Niel (Robert Pattinson) as they race against time to stop Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), the Russian arms dealer at the center of the mystery.

If I had to describe TENET in one sentence, I'd say it was an international spy thriller with a science fiction twist. And that twist is used to great effect to create some of the most imaginative action sequences to be seen in a cinema this year. The way the film messes with our perception of time is a sight to behold. The manipulation of time itself is a recurring motif in several Christopher Nolan movies, but not since Inception has it been used to create breathtaking visuals like the ones in this movie.

The same high praise cannot be given to its sound mixing though. In a move that has since become signature for Nolan, most of the film's dialogue is obscured by loud noises or an otherwise muffled delivery. I understand that this is meant to lend a sense of realism to the film, but considering how complex the movie gets and how vital almost every spoken line of dialogue is to your understanding of the overall story, the choice just strikes me as an unfortunate one.

Thankfully, it never got to the point that I could no longer follow along with what I was watching, but I can empathize with others that had that experience. And that wasn't even the only issue I had with the movie. There was a romantic subplot between the Protagonist and another woman that I felt wasn't developed well enough, and the fact that much of the Protagonist's choices seemed driven by this just lent the whole thing a sense of unbelievability. 

This was aside from its central conceit of course. Much like Inception, the movie requires you to buy into its high concept premise for it to truly work. But the more you try to poke holes at it, the more the whole thing threatens to unravel under its own weight. This isn't a problem with this movie in particular, but with time travel stories in general. At least the movie does a decent job of establishing its ground rules and sticking to them, for better or worse.

If you haven't guessed it already, TENET is a great movie that isn't without its fair share of flaws. But taken as a whole, the movie offers just the right type of thrills and visual spectacle fans have come to expect from Christopher Nolan. But I am sincerely concerned about the film's overall box office prospects, given the current climate. This is why I believe all Nolan fans should endeavor to see it at least once at the cinema, provided they can do so while observing all the required safety precautions.

8 comments:

  1. I caught it a few days ago. Loved it. Box office at this point is kind of beside the point. Disney tried to goose money out of potential audiences with Milan (I found this somewhat odious), but I’m pretty sure everyone knows making money will be a lot different in the foreseeable future. Nolan pushed for get the movie released in theaters because he sees the theater experience as induplicable. Which of course is true. If it weren’t, stage theater would have greatly its reach long ago. Which it hasn’t, and won’t. But we may be seeing, now, audiences deciding differently for movies, which is a pity.

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    1. The movie just made over $250m this weekend, but it needs to make twice that to break even. I think it can get there eventually, with an extended theatrical run, but it is going to be a slow, arduous climb.

      Glad you enjoyed the movie too. I think most people still value the theatrical experience enough to go out and see a movie like TENET, given the opportunity to do so. But the movie theaters themselves will need to be resourceful in order to survive the effects of the pandemic.

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  2. It might not still be in theaters by the time ours open. But I've been a big fan of Nolan ever since Momento and thought Inception was pure brilliance. The first chance I get, I'll go see it.

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    1. Cool. Ane they've said they'll try to keep it in theaters longer than usual, so that it gets a shot at breaking even, so I don't expect it to be pulled this year or anytime soon.

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  3. My head still hurts thinking about it.

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    1. Lol. The story was quite convoluted, no doubt. But I don't think we should expect anything less from a Christopher Nolan movie. 😁

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