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Worth a Watch? - Tenet (2020)

(c) Warner Bros. Pictures. Video courtesy of Warner Bros. via Youtube.

One of director Christopher Nolan’s best works, rivalled only by his 2010 film Inception, Tenet is a must-watch for fans of Nolan and newbies to his work alike. While the story can get confusing at times if you try and follow along with everything going on in the film, my advice would be to just go with it and enjoy the incredible action and stellar performances.

The plot follows an unnamed protagonist (John David Washington) as a CIA operative participating in an extraction operation at the Kyiv opera house in Ukraine. The extraction goes to shit with the protagonist captured and tortured by Russian mercenaries. After withstanding the torture for ages, he decides to ingest the cyanide capsule as a way out but, uh oh, turns out the CIA used the capsule to figure out whether he was appropriate to join their super-secret treehouse club.

Time to celebrate because the protagonist got into the club and he’s swiftly recruited by the Tenet organisation, which is like the layer of the CIA so deep within the CIA that not even the CIA knows it exists, which gave me major Inception vibes straight off the bat.

The protagonist is tasked with investigating and tracking the source of mysterious ‘inverted’ objects that have reversed entropy and are pretty much travelling backwards through time. He is also charged with retrieving the device that was lost during the opera house extraction.

To assist him, the protagonist is sent to Mumbai and rendezvouses with a fellow Tenet operative, Neil (Robert Pattinson). Through subsequent plot events, they discover that the objects are being inverted by the Russian oligarch Andre Sator (Kenneth Branagh).

Time travel shenanigans ensue from that point onwards and I’m going to leave it at that because I can’t do it justice and you really just have to watch and experience this for yourself. I mentioned Inception earlier and if you had trouble following that film’s plot, you’re in quite a bit of strife for this one. Trust me, switch your brain off and just enjoy the ride.

At the start of the film the protagonist, like most main characters in films, is pretty bland. The actor playing him is skilled and puts in a great performance that keeps the character engaging but there’s no escaping the fact that he’s an audience surrogate, to begin with. This feels necessary to stop the audience from being too lost so it’s not a major gripe especially as later on in the film this audience surrogate feeling falls away the more I watched.

Robert Pattinson’s Neil is a great secondary character foil to the protagonist and my favourite character of the film. He’s a physicist so he gives the film a great channel for the necessary exposition and explanatory dialogue that get dumped on the audience so they can try and follow along through all the time travel.

Pattinson plays the character exceptionally well, proving himself to be a skilled actor over the years and I’d say he’s definitely stepped outside that long dark shadow cast by the Twilight franchise.

The rest of the cast is pretty solid with the only exception for me being the main antagonist, Sator. Don’t get me wrong, Kenneth Branagh does an admirable job but my problem is more with the character himself. He feels a bit too flat and cliché for me to get invested which was disappointing, considering Nolan’s previous film Inception had such a great antagonist in Saito.

The cinematography’s got all the hallmarks of a Christopher Nolan film and I love it. The film’s opening scenes in the opera house, especially the action, is phenomenal and drew me in straight away – putting it on par with Inception’s opening. The action set-pieces throughout the entire film are great and kept me engaged with a standout for me being the scenes at the Oslo airport.

The early setup, planning and implementation of the plan to infiltrate the airport was paced in a way that didn’t bog down the film and kept everything moving along. The stunts and fight scenes during the airport are some of the best I’ve seen in a long career of film watching.

Honestly, anytime there was an action scene in this film I wasn’t bored and was riding on a high, just waiting to see what would happen next, which I think is the sign of a great film.

It’s been reported that Christopher Nolan spent five years developing the script with three years since his last directorial work being Dunkirk in 2017. Tenet’s finally here and it’s definitely been worth the wait. Easily my favourite film of 2020 for whatever that’s worth.

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