• Gareth Crook

Tenet (2020)

Time to strap in and see if I can make sense of this, Nolan’s latest brain melting opus. We’re in the sort of near future I enjoy. Everything looks about right, but the tech is a notch higher. It’s a bit pointless trying to ground this is reality though. “We live in a twilight world”. It’s gonna get a bit squirrelly. We’re not even given names in some cases. Instead we’re introduced to The Protagonist (John David Washington). He’s an action hero (handy), some kind of CIA SWAT dude who gets himself in a tight spot in the blistering opening scene, earning him passage into something deeper, darker, even more covert. That’s not the hook here though, y’see this is only our perception of what we’re seeing at this point. Something that brings us back to that brain melting bit. Time reversal. Not time travel per se, but stuff going backwards. This new phenomena has been weaponised and not by the good guys. We get a little explanation from Barbara (she gets a name) played by Clémence Poésy (excellent the the TV series The Tunnel). She tells us not to try to understand it... that’s good advice. But I’ll give it a go. In the future, people have figured out how to invert time (not solve world hunger but there you go). Like almost everything we invent, some arsehole figures a way for it to do harm to others. In short there’s war. If you can invert time, you can essentially send things back, weapons or even the act of war itself. Thus attacking an assailant that can’t see you. Genius. Utterly bonkers batshit genius. So TP (the protagonist, I’m not typing it every time), is set the task to, what? It’s not clear, other than to stop it or figure it out, do some good at least. He enlists Neil (Robert Pattinson) who I have to say has made some lovely and brave film choices in recent years. He’s gonna help TP get to Priya (Dimple Kapadia) for our second action set piece. This is what much of Tenet boils down to. Cool cinematic indulgent set pieces , moodily soundtracked, between bits of complicated exposition. And so we’re introduced to Crosby (Michael Caine) for more of what I’m already getting a bit bored of, Cold War type espionage dialogue, clumsily written. “I assume you’ve heard of...”, “Yes blah blah blah”. By the time we get to Sator (Kenneth Branagh) and he’s marital difficulties with his art dealing wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) I’m praying that all this set up is going to deliver somewhere down the line. That’s not to say some of it isn’t fun. The scenes with TP and Neil are entertaining as they plot and plan their next move further into the web, with what has to be said, an excellent electro underscore. Much has been made of the intrusive score, masking dialogue. I’m afraid I don’t see an issue. It’s clear that we’re hearing all we need to, including Branagh’s slightly dodgy Russian accent. It’s the banging score that makes the action set pieces really pack a punch. Not least the highway chase/attack scene that marks the centre point of this marvellously. It’s beautifully spectacular, reminiscent of the wow factor that bullet time gave us in The Matrix 20 years ago, although not quite as cool. It also marks the point when things really do get a little tricky to follow. Sator is in possession of a machine or machines that allow him to pass back and forth between time shifts. It’s like a revolving door... or one of those automatic toilet doors you find on trains. Anyway it means that we’ve now two threads to follow. Normally I’d say big deal, I’m more than capable of following two at the same time. Here though it’s the same thread two different ways. It’s purposefully confusing. I think I get it, but I’m sure there’s lots of explanations already online. The thing is though, I wonder if it’s better not to get bogged down. Sure unpick it to the point you feel you’ve got a grip, but this is science fiction, a concept, sometimes it’s better to let it roll a little. Especially when TP steps into reverse world, it’s a real trip. I’m not sure this has the heart to become a classic piece of modern cinema, but these scenes do feel visually groundbreaking. I’m sure effects like these have been tried before, but the style and complexity here is quite frankly jaw dropping. It’s very self knowing, a little annoyingly so, but there’s generally enough touch points for you to see bits coming together and feel smug that you’re right. In short it’s fun. If you try to make too much sense of it, you’ll literally go around in circles. THAT is the entire point, an elegant repeating loop. I can see why a lot don’t like this. It’s cold and heartless, frustrating and oddly sentimental. It is interesting though, entertaining, exhilaration and inventive. I really enjoyed it, but I think it’s one shot sort of film. I see little worth in repeat viewings to relive it with more knowledge. Enjoy the journey, it’s sometimes more satisfying than the destination.

7/10