“We live in a twilight world. There are no friends at dusk.”
This is one of those films where if you blink you can miss something important in the plot. It’s ever moving, ever changing, plodding forward to a focal point that you don’t see until you get right to the end of the film, at which you have already passed it.
The film follows ‘The Protagonist’ played by John David Washington and flanked by his sidekick played by Robert Pattinson. Washington is an espionage/CIA agent tasked with finding some mysterious artefact on a mission he knows nothing about. At the beginning of the film, he infiltrates a building dressed as some sort of Ukranian tactical police and is saved by a mysterious fellow who ‘un-fires’ a bullet past him. He is then taken hostage by some unknown enemy and takes cyanide only to wake from what he planned to be his imminent death. Impressed with his candour in the face of danger, the powers that be grant him deeper access to the inner fold of ‘Tenet’ and show him a secret hand signal that will take him deeper still into a rabbit hole. He discovers that time travel/time manipulation is real, that it has been weaponised and that a baddie called Sator wants to take the world hostage with this invention.
So! I thought this Christopher Nolan film was fast-paced and exciting and just what we have come to expect of Nolan TBH. He really doesn’t make it easy for us does he?! I’ve heard many people say that this film was James Bond meets science fiction, and I would have to agree. Also, it felt like I was witnessing a really good Washington/Bond audition video.. HINT HINT. Put Washington in, M! Come on! DO IT FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY!
The concept was a pretty original one and another thought-provoking Nolan film. The more details you learn about the film – which I explored after I finished watching – the more impressive this offering is. I feel like it’s a shame that the film came out during the pandemic because the epicness of the film really would have lended itself to the big screen. Unfortunately, we all had to watch it on our TVs and computers so the reception was not as explosive as I think the film deserved.
I really really like that it was unlike any time travel film I’ve seen before. Most time travel films have a machine that you step into; the reaction is fast and it takes you to anywhere you want to go in a millisecond. But with this film, time travel is slow. You’re advised to wait to enter until you see yourself exit on the other side of the glass before you go in. It’s about as exciting as stepping into a lift, AND in order to travel back, you have to live all those moments in reverse breathing from an oxygen tank trying not to bump into yourself. Imagine how tedious it must be to go back in time in this version of time travel. I know most people would find that really dull but I enjoyed how deliberate and slow the pacing was of the tech. It made it feel fragile, even. Like it could break at any moment.
I have a few criticisms for the film. First was that it was visually confusing in the later epic fight scenes. I had heard lots of people were confused about the plot generally, but that wasn’t it for me because the speeches the characters repeated throughout told you contextually everything you needed to know. From the “we live in a twilight world” to “what’s happened, happened”… The characters even went so far to refer to and explain the ‘Grandfather paradox’, explaining the theory behind it and – SPOILER ALERT – setting up a later scene which ended up being a near paradox! It’s the fight scenes which ended up being the most confusing to me, in part due to the nature of the film i.e. much of the fight scenes were shot in reverse, but it’s the final fight scene where this gets spectacularly muddy. Despite the ‘good guys’ wearing coloured armbands, when the fighting began it was really hard to see where one person began and another ended. There were also surprise cast inclusions, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson turning up three quarters of the way through the film to join the fight, only for us to later find out that he’s not a bit-part but actually an extremely integral part of the plot. Where was he hiding this whole time? And lastly, the damsel-in-distress storyline was a bit much… The Protagonist uses this woman and preys on her fear for Sator by promising to help her only to kinda double cross her. It felt a little like sensationalising an abusive asshole by putting him on this pedastal albeit – SPOILER – he ended up meeting his match. That said, fair play to the lead female actress Elizabeth Debicki. There’s lots of good moments but the most subtle look she gives at one point of the film is really well done, and arguably with the emotional content she had to take on, Debicki’s storyline was by far the hardest. I thought she did a great job despite not having that much to work with compared to her co-stars.
So in conclusion, I really enjoyed watching this. The plot was audacious, epic and original, and invites further watching. Washington was DA MAN in this and his peripheral cast had great chemistry with him. I wasn’t sure Pattinson could pull it off because I see him as a child-actor but I believed him as an agent in this and I guess that reassured me for what will be his later transformation into Batman… Still, don’t fuck it up Pattinson… Some muddy bits but this film kept me thinking about it for a while after. I know many critics have seen this and gone all Avril Lavigne on Nolan (WHY YOU GOTTA GO AND MAKE THINGS SO COMPLICATED?!) but Nolan makes an entertaining film so I can’t hate on him. Go check it out!