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Review: Tenet

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A secret agent embarks on a dangerous, time-bending mission to prevent the start of World War III.

Imagine time travel not as Bill and Ted’s history lesson, not as The Butterfly Effect, or even the ‘do not interfere’ version popular with (but generally ignored by) Star Trek and Doctor Who.

Imagine, instead, that it is an inversion of real-time—someone from the future walking backwards through currently events—bullets firing back into the gun, soldiers walking backwards through a battle but still part of the melee.

To quote a very old cartoon rooster: ‘What the? I say, what the tarnation you talkin’ ‘bout?’

We have all been away from the full cinema experience for a while so, if you are thinking about gingerly dipping your toe back into the popcorn scented darkness, this may not be the film for you.

If, however, you yearn for the adrenalin spike of watching really big things crash in real life, at fast speeds; and love the slightly vertiginous feeling of rushing through a story you don’t completely understand – then this is definitely the one for you!

I really enjoyed this film, for so many different reasons. Let’s start with the cast: John David Washington (son of Denzel) is the perfect person for this role. He is properly fit (not just gym induced muscle for show), he has a Bond-like elegant swagger in a suit—but is also able to communicate enough confusion and fear over what is happening that he can bring the audience on the ride with him. You can see the cogs moving as he works out how inverted time affects current time—looking at bullet holes particularly—and his POV is the only insight into what is actually happening that the audience gets.

Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of Washington’s offsider is really very good (not something I often say about him) and Elizabeth Debicki wrings every ounce of emotion out of her character. Shame Kenneth Branagh chews the scenery a bit much, but I could be persuaded that this is on point for his Russian megalomaniac.

I love that Nolan has peopled the film with familiar faces in small roles—Michael Caine, Himesh Patel, Aaron Taylor-Johnson all have parts.

Now to the filming – Christopher Nolan is a bit too clever for his own good sometimes but I absolutely have to admire how he has stitched scenes together. Some characters and action happen in the usual, forwards way, some other action is filmed backwards and then there are some characters moving through inverted (backwards) time in a forwards motion. Clear on that? I’m still trying to grasp it. It becomes quite amazing when you learn Nolan barely used green screen at all. Cars are actually being driven backwards at breakneck speeds, a 747 was actually crashed into a building. Breathtaking stuff!

Don’t worry too much about missing some dialogue—every review I’ve read suggests viewers will need to see this two or three times—so I’m sure you’ll pick all of it up in the end.

Although part of me thinks Christopher Nolan doesn’t actually want us to completely understand the story. He wants to amaze us, confound us and even thrill us but not necessarily explain the plot to us.

I say lean into the concept, sit back in the seat and get raced along on a thrilling ride.

Roslyn saw this film as a guest of Dendy Cinemas.

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