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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Tenet' Review: Christopher Nolan's Action Thriller Puts John David Washington Into Reverse

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in a red-blue room
Warner Bros. Pictures

So much weight was put on the figurative shoulders of Tenet, the latest brainchild of director and writer Christopher Nolan, as the summer of 2020 went on and on without any big blockbusters to fill cinemas. It kept getting pushed back again and again and with every release date change, even my personal expectation level began to increase as did the industry’s, I felt. What also helped that anticipation was the fact that the year’s overall release calendar felt rather empty and since there aren’t many directors whose name can carry a marketing push, Tenet became the light at the end of the tunnel. The film looks and feels very much like its creator since it succeeds in being fresh, focused and collective, having only a few mediocre puzzle pieces.

Nolan’s story leads us to the presence of Protagonist (played by John David Washington) as he needs to find a way to save everything from world’s timely doom with assistance from Neil (Robert Pattinson), coming across other doomed people like Russian mogul Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), Sator’s wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) and Mahir (Himesh Patel). The screenplay is the reliable piece carrying the film, revealing its secrets layer by layer at the same time as The Protagonist figures it out. That keeps you constantly involved with the plot which is exactly what any action film aspires to do. Washington and Pattinson are an infectious pair together, the former bringing the heat and charisma which he showed glimpses of in 2018’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’.

The antagonist is Sator whose Time is Up in two different ways and unfortunately both the character and Branagh just aren’t interesting like the rest of the film. Sator lacks the ”final boss” level of danger while Branagh’s accent and delivery aren’t all that natural sounding.

There is always suspense growing which owes a lot to the combined effort of the film’s score and editing. Composer Ludwig Göransson is wisely making choices at times that reference a few other Nolan films that share some DNA with Tenet. Important here though is that it’s not Göransson’s only trick in his sleeve, perfectly timed pulsating synths on top of the arpeggiated runs and ground shaking synth bass could create smooth transitions for the editor Jennifer Lame by themselves. Lame provides several hard cuts which keep the story moving along nicely, to the point that the 150 minute runtime simply flows. The fight scenes that play with the reverse and forward theme are always a bit different but still manage to feature wonderful shots that clearly showcase the choreography and stunts, whether being wide shots or close-ups.

Smileys: Screenplay, score, editing, John David Washington

Frowneys: Kenneth Branagh

Nothing to do with the film itself but there was a fly projecting onto the screen in my screening for the first third of the movie but I guess that even it got invested in the story and took a seat.


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