Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references, and brief strong language
2 hours 30 minutes · In theaters now
In Christopher Nolan’s excellent movie The Prestige, Nikola Tesla says, “You’re familiar with the phrase, ‘Man’s reach exceeds his grasp’? It’s a lie: Man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.”
Thankfully for us, Nolan has quite a bit of nerve.
For more than 20 years, Nolan has been making some of the most narratively dense and visually ambitious films to come out of Hollywood. Perhaps the only big-budget auteur still around, Nolan is likely the only director working who could convince Warner Brothers to release his latest behemoth exclusively to theaters during a global pandemic.
After all the false starts and delayed releases, Tenet is finally here. It’s imaginative and immersive entertainment that will undoubtedly reward multiple viewings.
The quietly commanding John David Washington stars as The Protagonist, an unnamed CIA agent who is recruited by a secret organization known as “Tenet” after a test mission in Kiev. He meets with a fellow spy named Neil (Robert Pattinson) before pursuing his next, world-altering mission.
Through a series of operatives, the Protagonist learns of “inverted material,” whose entropy has been reversed so that it can travel backward through time. The distribution of said material leads him to Russian arms dealer Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) and his distant wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), who are involved in a plot that could unspool the fabric of time itself.
Following the releases of Memento in 2000 and Inception in 2010, Nolan has continued his rich tradition of opening each new decade with a top-tier, mind-bending thriller whose title titillates with just a single word.
Like those previous films, the time in Tenet unfolds in a profoundly unconventional manner. Half the fun of watching is in trying to keep up with all of the plates that Nolan is spinning.
He seamlessly marries the intricate plot structure of heady time travel fare like Primer with the jaw-dropping action setpieces one would expect from an entry in the James Bond or Mission: Impossible franchises.
The intensely convoluted storyline is bound to leave some viewers frustrated and confused, but it left me eager to unpack its secrets and twists as I reflect on the experience in hindsight.
As one would expect from a Nolan action film at this point, Tenet is impeccably crafted on multiple technical levels. The larger-than-life musical score from Ludwig Göransson throbs with wall-to-wall synths that appropriately sound like they’re being ripped through the time-space continuum.
The sharp camerawork from Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema beautifully frames the action with mesmerizing clarity — one shot in particular recalls one of the most iconic moments from The Wizard of Oz.
But the real MVP behind the camera is Jennifer Lame, who should be a hands-down frontrunner for the Best Editing Oscar whenever the Academy Awards end up happening next year.
I had a great time watching Tenet, the first film I’ve seen in a theater in almost six months, but Nolan’s movies continue to have a lingering issue with sound mixing that renders too much of the dialogue unintelligible.
Dunkirk gets a bit of a pass since it’s a war picture and the screenplay was light on characters conversing. But the script this time around is loaded with metaphysical concepts that are imperative in order to decode the story.
I’m looking forward to rewatching Tenet from the comfort and safety of my home, with subtitles active and the rewind button close within my grasp.
Whether you choose to brave the theaters or wait for Tenet to become available to rent, it’s a first-rate brainteaser that’s well worth unraveling.
New movies this weekend
Opening in theaters is The Broken Hearts Gallery, a romantic comedy starring Geraldine Viswanathan and Dacre Montgomery about a heartbroken young woman who starts a gallery where people can leave mementos from past relationships.
Available to stream on Netflix is The Social Dilemma, a documentary that investigates the dangerous impact that social media platforms have had on our society.
Also debuting on Netflix is The Babysitter: Killer Queen, a horror comedy sequel starring Judah Lewis and Hana Mae Lee about a high school teen who has another run in with a satanic cult after he escaped years ago.