Review: Christopher Nolan’s TENET Is A Flawed Cinematic Wonder

3.5 out of 5 stars

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is a film which can be enjoyed, but it’s highly likely that you won’t really understand it. It takes a lot of big ideas – and a lot of big moviemaking techniques to ultimately deliver a film which is mesmerising but very flawed. It doesn’t hold together as a concept like Inception did and ultimately Tenet is Nolan’s first miss as a director. Having said that, Nolan’s miss would be anyone else’s masterpiece. 

Tenet sees John David Washington’s Protagonist (the character is never named) attempting to retrieve a mysterious time travelling device from Kenneth Branagh’s villain. That sounds simple enough, but Nolan manages to wrap it up in an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle. He then opens it backwards. 

The performances in Tenet are great, the visuals stunning and the plot a curiosity of a puzzle box. However,  I’m not one hundred percent sure that Nolan’s film makes sense. The time travel concept is explained and shown but it never clicks into place. 

The shadow of James Bond looms large over Tenet and if you stripped away the time travel and inverted bullets then you’d have a pretty strong spy thriller in the vein of the recent Daniel Craig Bond films. You wonder if the film would have been better if Nolan had just went down that route. It probably would have been. 

John David Washington is a very good anchor for the Tenet, commanding the film with burgeoning movie star intensity. Tenet shows that the man has the potential to achieve the same career status as his father, Denzel. I was impressed by his turn in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and I’m impressed again here.

Robert Pattinson‘s supporting role is also strong. This is the first time I’ve seen him having fun in a movie in a leading man sense. He might be a good pick for The Batman after all. Elizabeth Debicki takes a role which could have been slight and adds depth and nuance. It could have been an icy cold role but she gives it humanity. Kenneth Branagh chews the scenery as the movie’s villain, utilising the same Russian accent that he had in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It’s good to see Nolan’s lucky charm, Michael Caine making yet another appearance in a small but pivotal role. 

Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema must be praised for his work and composer Ludwig Göransson has crafted the greatest Hans Zimmer score that he’s never composed. The film looks and sounds great, like all Nolan films do. 

The action sequences in Tenet have to be admired. It boggles the mind to try and understand how that backwards/forwards action was achieved and everyone involved deserves to be commended. It makes the upside-down world of Inception seem like straightforward and simple filmmaking. 

The big flaw in Tenet seems to be the convoluted logic built into Nolan’s script. It just seems to be a cinematic magic trick that makes very little sense. I could be wrong and maybe I’ll understand it after I’ve watched it a few more times.