Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
Director: Christopher Nolan
Running Time: 150 mins
Tenet is an American film about a CIA agent who finds himself at the centre of a top-secret operation which transcends time, and holds the key to saving the world from annihilation.
Astonishingly intricate and requiring total concentration at every moment, Tenet is without doubt one of the most mentally taxing blockbusters ever made. And yet, despite its immense complexity, Christopher Nolan crafts a thrilling, unpredictable and ultimately ingenious and coherent sci-fi story, again pushing the boundaries of cinema as far as they will go.
Over the course of two and a half hours, so much happens in Tenet, and it’s impossible to grasp it all in one viewing. I found even taking a sip of water too distracting, proving just how much you need to focus and concentrate to get the most out of Tenet.
As intense as it is on the brain, though, the way that Nolan is able to bring such an intricate story to life in sleek, thrilling style is nothing short of staggering, seeing the director operating on a higher level than ever before. His previous mind-benders – Memento, The Prestige and Inception – are but a drop in the water in comparison to Tenet.
This film bursts into life from the very first moment, and doesn’t stop for a second over its entire runtime. It’s intensely exciting, and utterly perplexing for pretty much the whole first half.
As it introduces new, complex ideas to you one after another, trying to get your head around everything that happens in Tenet is an impossibility. That level of unintelligibility might sound daunting and even boring, but Nolan is still able to thrill you with an ingenious screenplay that blends fascinating mystery with exhilarating action.
It’s fair to say that Tenet lacks a deeper emotional element, with less gripping character development than some of Nolan’s other films. But then again, anything on top of what this movie is already throwing at you would be totally overwhelming.
As a result, the best policy for watching Tenet is to follow the advice it gives you right at the start: don’t try to understand it. Nolan’s screenplay is so deliberately complex that there’s no way to figure it out in the first half, but that opens the film up for an exhilarating second half, which ties up every loose end spectacularly.
After a good hour of exciting and intense but almost incoherent world-building, Tenet begins to show its true colours, leading up to a truly mind-bending revelation that ingeniously explains everything that’s been happening in a split second. And after that, the movie is nowhere near as confusing, but it’s still just as exciting, just as unpredictable, and just as astonishingly intricate.
You won’t understand Tenet as quickly as you want to. But don’t worry, you will in the end. That’s testament to Nolan’s astonishing screenplay, which is able to excite and entertain even through its most bewildering periods, and then manages to clear up all the doubts and questions you have by the finish.
It’s a masterpiece of writing that pushes the boundaries of storytelling. There were numerous occasions where I felt that Nolan was going too far – to an almost gratuitous level of complexity. But there’s a reason for everything that happens here, and that’s why concentration and patience is so key to getting everything out of Tenet.
For such an eventful film that runs for so long, there’s no denying the superhuman effort it must have taken Nolan, his cast and his crew to make Tenet happen. And with the exception of some noise level issues throughout (a frustrating recurrence from Interstellar) that make already complex dialogue even trickier to understand, Tenet is an absolute masterpiece from start to finish.
Not only is it a thrilling and spectacular blockbuster, Tenet is also an ingeniously crafted story that brings exhilarating new ideas to life in stunning fashion. It’s not quite Nolan’s very best film due to a relative lack of character depth, but as far as truly intricate, complex mystery storytelling goes, Tenet is one of the best films of all time. That’s why I’m giving it an 8.8 overall.