Tenet Movie Review: Titillating with physics, philosophy
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Dimple Kapadia, Kenneth Branagh
“Don’t try to understand it, feel it,” says a scientist, early on Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, to the leading man John David Washington. That’s some solid advice to the viewer as well. Walking into a theatre after eight months (for most), there couldn’t have been a film more fitting. The disorderly scheme of affairs amidst which the film released worldwide is a perfectly relatable setting for a film of this nature. Tenet is that glorious Nolan outing, where physics trumps philosophy. It is baffling, bold and beautiful making the audience weigh in on the concepts of fate and reality.
Much like the filmmaker’s previous works, Tenet is in equal measures abstract and convoluted but as we get sucked into its tapestry, the pieces of the puzzle start falling together. It kicks off as a spy actioner at the Kiev Opera House under siege due to a terrorist attack but we slowly make our way towards the core theme of the film – time inversion, giving a new-age spin to the old age idea of time travel.
Mounted on a wide canvas, for the first 30 minutes, you are simply immersed in the universe that you are trying to make sense of. Luckily for us, Washington mirrors our mental space and together with him, we walk through the warp and weft of this complex narrative. Seducing us with gorgeous car chases and death-defying action sequences which are shot at gorgeous, mystical locations across the world, Nolan holds our attention through the two-and-half-hour runtime as he untangles multiple narratives, one scene at a time.
There is a definite lack of depth because emotions here are far more muted than some of Nolan’s previous films. A primary climax hook involves a mother and son relationship that’s never delved into through the entire span of the screenplay. As the narrative swiftly cuts between past and present, defying chronology in a way that the film deems fit, its performances anchor the storyline that could appear to be scattered.
Robbert Pattinson as the English handler Neil is terrific. So is Kenneth Branagh, who is a tad hammy with his thick Russian accent as the Russian Oligarch Sator, but he makes you buy into his devilish designs. His wife played by Elizabeth Debicki (who will be playing Princess Diana in the next season of Crown) provides this crowded plot with the much-needed vulnerability. For us Desi cine-goers, it’s Dimple Kapadia playing Priya with robust confidence, that is truly satisfying. If it’s possible, she is more in her element than she has ever been, owning the screen every time she is on it.
What you can’t fault the film for is its neat action sequences including a car chase sequence that appears twice over. Inverted bullets as an idea captivates your imagination certainly. In terms of grandiose, Tenet is a blockbuster that paces briskly towards a delicious climax tying up the plot in a fine manner. After a year like 2020, this is the kind of movie you’d want to go back to the big screens for. But the problem here is that it isn’t entirely emotionally moving in a way Interstellar was. Staying true to his style Nolan does inspire your imagination. I wondered if the time inversion theory could’ve been used to go back in time and avoid COVID entirely. In the director’s own words from Inception, “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling…” Now is that a good sign that Tenet makes you quote an earlier film of his. I leave the answer to you…
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