"...the film is a near masterpiece, but it overstays its welcome a bit..."

Of Palindrome's, McGuffin's and Time

(091920) In 2000, when I was writing film reviews for The Star newspapers, I saw a preview screening of a film by a relatively new director . The movie was called Memento which is now seen by many as a classic, and I found it to be highly impressive and intellectually challenging (I had to watch it twice to understand it though). I found the basic premise and film to be a highly original and the direction was indisputably skillful. I suspected then that the first time, writer/director Christopher Nolan had a great future.

Twenty years later, Nolan has largely fulfilled his early promise and created an oeuvre of winning, thought provoking films including Insomnia (2002). The Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012),
Inception (2010), and Interstellar (2014). He has shown himself to be particularly skillful at doing sci-fi and even his weakest films have been highly distinctive and far brainier than your average Hollywood film. He has been frequently rewarded by the awards industry and his films have gotten 34 Oscar nominations and ten wins. If the academy gave out an award Best Fine Suit Tailoring, his new film would definitely deserve it.

His latest film, Tenet (the title is a palindrome which reflects many of the reversible events in the film) is the first mega expensive studio movie (it cost over $200 million) to open in conventional theaters this year (including Marcus in Orland Park and the Music Box where it is being shown in 70 mm). The film is a frequently fresh and spectacular spy/science fiction film/action film that twists and turns so much it might make most viewers’ heads spin. For the opening two plus hours the film is a near masterpiece, but it overstays its welcome a bit, and in the last 20 minutes or so the plot becomes needlessly convoluted.

The film stars John David Washington (probably best known for BlacKkklansman) who gives an energetic and intense performance as a character known simply as: "The Protagonist" in the credits (he also calls himself that in the film.) The athletic former college football player, Washington oozes charisma, moves well, and he is a natural action star. In the opening scene, The Protagonist  intervenes in a terrorist attack on an opera house in the Ukraine in which all the viewers are knocked out by gas to retrieve a "McGuffin" (Hitchcock fans should recognize the term), At first, we do not know who is behind it or why it was done but we quickly start learning info. The Protagonist poses as a terrorist in a group called Tenet, but he is really a CIA infiltrator who was sent to stop the theft.

It all relates to strange weapons, A scientist named Barbara (Clarence Poesy) demonstrates a gun that works backward by sucking bullets out of their targets back into the chamber by reversing time. Of the guns she says, “Someone’s manufacturing them in the future.” Director Nolan has always been fascinated by exploring time related issues, and the sequences in his first major film, Memento were presented in reverse order.

It turns out that a slimy and sadistic Russian arms dealer/maniacal oligarch, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh who is hammy but wonderful ), is trading in weapons that were updated in the future. But The Protagonist has eyes for Sator’s mistreated wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki who convincingly plays a pompous but sympathetic upper-class English woman) in a twist that could have been in a James Bond film (Think Never Say Never Again). The attraction/chemistry between Kat and the Protagonist seems real, but they are also probably using each other as well.

The Protagonist teams up with Neil (would you believe Robert Pattinson from Twilight) to stop Sator from destroying the world. Sator figures since he has terminal cancer he might as well take the world with him. Neil always knows more than he should, and we are not totally sure who sent him or which side he is on.
The film contains many bizarre scenes in which objects and people move backwards. The film’s plot is built around the scientific theory of inversion, in which an object or a person can have their entropy reversed, which causes them to move backwards in space while others move forward. I never saw that one discussed in Star Trek or Black Mirror (unless I missed it.) So, if you wanted to go back to a specific moment in time you would have to live your life backwards until you reach that point. This validity of this theory has already been proven on a small scale in an experiment in Brazil in which allegedly time ran in reverse and a cold object heated up a warm one.

For about three fourths of the film I was riveted by the convincing action scenes and my mind was constantly engaged. But I was slightly let down by the slower paced denouncement and fuzzy ending which can probably be compared to coming down from a drug trip. But the film is still an often-great effort with some of the best chase scenes I have ever seen, and I would be very surprised if something else half this good was in the theaters right now. It is worth your time and effort to see one this on a big screen and it looks magnificent.

Directed & Written by:   Christopher Nolan
Starring:   John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
Released:   09/03/2020 (theatrically)
Length:   150 minutes
Rating:   PG13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

TENET  © 2020 Warner Bros Pictures
Review © 2020 Alternate Reality, Inc.