We Live In A Twilight World: Tenet (2020) - Reviewed

Whenever British mogul film director Christopher Nolan embarks on a new project, whether you like the film or not it represents something of a major event.  One of the few if only directors with nearly as much studio clout and authority as Stanley Kubrick, Nolan’s meteoric rise to the very top of prestigious Hollywood film directors makes each forthcoming project laden with enormous anticipation whether you like the end results or not.  His latest endeavor, the time-shifting Memento meets Inception times a billion Tenet “save the world” movie starring John David Washington and Robert Pattison, couldn’t have faced a higher uphill battle than any other project this year.

Delayed numerous times due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before being forcibly pushed through on the original intended release date by Nolan, the long awaited Tenet has finally made it to cinema screens in wide theatrical release at a time when going to the theaters is something of a serious health risk.  Released per Nolan’s preferences on a wide variety of film formats with celluloid IMAX 15/70mm theatrical prints, the film is nothing short of demonstrative of the director’s envelope pushing technical brilliance. Including but not limited to Hoyt Van Hoytema’s lush 65mm cinematography, Black Panther composer Ludwig Göransson’s pulsating electronic score and a fantastic leading performance by John David Washington, Tenet purely technically speaking is one of the freshest releases of the year.

As for the film itself at the end of a long and arduous journey to the silver screen, Tenet is undoubtedly the most uncompromising Christopher Nolan film production to date.  Something of a “save the world” spy movie filtered through the shape shifting role reversing quadrupling unto itself narrative structure characterized by David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Tenet is either Nolan reaching uncharted storytelling heights or disappearing completely up his own ass.  Whether you can follow this loud, bombastic, explosive and wholly indescribable surreal jaunt of a film or not is secondary to the roller coaster thrills felt on the way down this journey.  It is a $200 million big screen spectacle bristling with ideas that come at you so rapidly it is easy to lose track of just what exactly you are watching.

Co-starring Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Nolan regular Michael Caine and Elizabeth Debicki, this time-traveling swan dive down labyrinthine rabbit holes after rabbit holes is the kind of production that would make most people throw the screenplay up in the air in frustration but in Nolan’s hands the picture is a technically proficient thrill ride.  As with Interstellar and Dunkirk, Tenet lets Nolan run wild with the action set pieces including some of the most ambitious sequences ever attempted by the writer-director.  Nolan doesn’t intend for you to get all of it upon the first viewing, inviting filmgoers back into the theater or repeatedly on 4K UHD disc for second helpings.  As a character driven piece the film can be rather glacial but the thrills are so enveloping you hardly care while watching it.  John David Washington brings a wealth of screen presence to the picture and with Tenet is clearly great leading man material, but the obvious star of this fireworks show is Nolan himself.

Tenet might not be the film that saves cinema from oblivion as more and more major films continue to be delayed due to the pandemic and for a major Hollywood film it places a lot of trust in the viewer to fully invest in this sci-fi universe if you can hold on tightly to the cars swerving around backwards and forwards, upside down and vertically.  What it does do on its own terms, however, is trademark unexpurgated Christopher Nolan mind boggling cinema made with a clear adoration for the celluloid form and technically speaking alone represents another major step forward for a film director at the top of his envelope pushing game.  Viewers at this time might not be inclined to take the plunge in theaters with all that is going on in the world but with a home video release just around the corner it will most certainly be well worth the wait.

-Andrew Kotwicki