As an ardent fan of Christopher Nolan’s filmic output, I had high expectations for Tenet. Sadly, I was disappointed.
The plot is thus: The Protagonist (yes, really) must stop a Russian oligarch hell-bent on global destruction. We are reminded at various junctures that this is a Very Serious Threat, underlined by the Eastern European heavies (aren’t they always) who routinely pop up for a punch-up. John David Washington’s Protagonist is aided by Robert Pattinson’s rakish Neil, who assists him on his mission that rips up the rule-book on linear temporality.
Being a Nolan film, it’s hardly surprising that it’s complicated, but every single word of dialogue fits into the box marked ‘exposition’, leaving very little room for anything else, such as humour or, more worryingly, character development. The Big Bad’s wife is played well by Elizabeth Debicki, effectively reprising her role from The Night Manager, but any emotional wallop the role may have had is undermined by a barely-seen son and a lack of chemistry with Washington. The latter, so charismatic in BlacKkKlansman, gives a performance which seems oddly reined in, not helped by lines such as “Aren’t you supposed to buy me dinner first?” after a heavy pats him down.
The action and VFX sequences are excellent and Nolan ticks off the Bond checklist (car chase, massive yacht, luxurious villa, tailored suits) as if he’s actively auditioning for the 26th 007 outing. Seeing a car chase in reverse was actually less impressive than seeing a choreographed fight with one actor running backwards and if this film is nominated for anything, it’s likely to be in the visual effects category (incidentally, the sound mixing was awful, with dialogue often drowned out by a synth-heavy score).Tenet was at its best during its heist sequences, when it fell back on more familiar genre tropes and forgot for a few minutes that it was trying to be oh-so-clever. As a piece of action cinema, there’s certainly enough to entertain, if that’s all you’re after. A shame, then, that Nolan, who has shown through the far-superior Inception that there is a huge audience for cerebral cinema, forgot that films also have to have heart, which Tenet sorely lacks.