Saturday, December 12, 2020

Movie with Abe: Tenet

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Released December 15, 2020 (DVD)

Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker who has established a definitive style for himself, one that squarely sets up audience expectations for an innovative experience that will likely leave their heads spinning and their brains working overtime. His most recent film, “Dunkirk,” which finally earned him his first Oscar nomination for directing, steered away from science-fiction and towards historical storytelling. That almost normative diversion doesn’t seem to have had any influence on his newest project, one massive and mind-bending enough to try to restore public confidence in movie theaters. Traveling back in time to fix that questionable business decision may not be possible, but if there’s one thing this film is determined not to be limited by it’s the notion of time or space.

Attempting to parse a plot summary from this film’s scrambled narrative is a fool’s errand, but here goes nothing. The Protagonist (John David Washington) is captured after a failed security operation, and his ingestion of a suicide capsule proves to be merely a test that enables his being read in to a far more important mission. He is told about inversion, a technology invented in the future that allows people and objects to move backwards through time, and tasked with saving the world as we know it, a job that will also involve Neil (Robert Pattinson), a well-dressed ally, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), an art appraiser, and Sator (Kenneth Branagh), a powerful enemy.

It’s impossible to watch this film without constantly comparing both its concept and execution to that of “Inception,” primarily since the target audience of this film is so clearly fans of that signature project. There’s a sense that so much more is going on than is apparent in the moment, and yet there’s never a point where it all does start to make sense, unless viewers are prepared to research endless theories online about the complexities of the timeline that make “Memento” seem like a straightforward and typical narrative. There are exciting moments where it seems like all is about to begin to compute, but what happens next is ultimately puzzling more than anything else. The intrigue is unquestionably there, but the dense delivery can’t hope to satisfy it.

One thing this film, like most of Nolan’s past works, gets right is its casting. Washington, like his father Denzel, is a great lead who rolls with the punches, ready for hand-to-hand combat as necessary and to look effortlessly cool in a suit when the role demands it. Pattinson is charming, Branagh is appropriately villainous, and Debicki is acting on an entirely different level, far more than her supporting turn here requires. As action films go, this one is fast-paced and energizing, supplying many invigorating and well-edited such scenes over the course of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Making audiences stretch their minds to comprehend a concept that isn’t even meant to be fully understood is a risky endeavor, and it’s one that only partially pays off in this decent but frustrating effort that produces infinitely more questions than answers.


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