It’s always a good idea to watch films involving wild theories involving time with a bunch of computer scientists. At least for the parts where you turn to them and go ‘So… am I missing something, or was that as confusing for you as it was for me?”
Confusing or not, I’ve greatly enjoyed all of Christopher Nolan’s films and Tenet is no exception. While I’m avoiding spoilers, it’s certainly one of those movies where it pays off to pay close attention to the little things (such as a character running around a corner and then suddenly doubling back with a confused expression on their face). It will pay off. Along with knowing what a palindrome is.
A nattily-dressed former CIA agent (you won’t get his name, no matter how much attention you pay to the plot, because it’s never given – but he’s played by John David Washington) is enlisted to figure out why things are going backwards. Literally, things. Things like bullets. Bits of machinery. All from some kind of potential future? Also, to help figure out why you can wave your had over something like those things and have it leap up into your hand after you intended to drop it instead. It’s all very weird, visually enjoyable, and all very ‘hey, the filming backward trick Nolan got into has certainly improved since he did Memento!“
“The Main Character Played By John David Washington” has to get busy quite quickly for a rather long movie, starting with fetching some bolt-like component from a terrorist-attacked opera house in Kiev, and then stop everything for a quick snack with Michael Caine. Well, it’s all in the job descriptions for spies, perhaps.
Caine is an actor who is famous for a great many things, (including a number of other Nolan movies) but also for his autobiographies, where he wrote the following:
Friendship in show business is a matter of geography. Most films are shot on location, which means that everyone you know and like is always somewhere else. The best location is, of course, near where you live, and failing that, a place you would normally pay to go on holiday. I have a dream of opening a script and reading: “As the yacht sailed into St Tropez harbour…” Usually locations do not come up to this standard.
It quickly comes up to that standard, although Caine sadly doesn’t get to come along for much of the ride. By the way, I suspect that the above quote is the reason why Rebel Wilson remade the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Smart woman. You might know that already.
The “Main Character Played By John David Washington” hardly has any time to get a reasonable “WTF” out about his post-CIA career path, before he’s swept off his feet by Robert Pattinson’s Neil. Neil seems to be trying to bring back into vogue the un-ironed drink-stained safari suit lounging around India style from a variety of 70s movies. But apparently he’s quite quick with a gun as well. The two of them team up with assorted (again, vague to my mind) military groups in order to bring down a Russian oligarch gun-runner who is a significant contributor to all of these bits-of-metal-going backward. Got to have a hobby, is my motto.
About then, Michael Caine’s autobiography quote comes into full play as we sit for a great number of minutes of Tenet dreamily looking at multi-million dollar yachts, glamorous high-rises, and locations like the Amalfi coast (look for the Villa Cimbrone balcony!). All the while, the previously-mentioned Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (played by a gleefully scene-chewing Kenneth Branagh) and Elizabeth Debicki as his sorrow-filled estranged wife battle over their relationship, particularly the attentions of their young son. Debicki is stuck in the same role that she had for The Night Manager, but hey, as Michael Caine would say – with locations like this, why complain? Oh, and this domestic situation goes on whilst all of those nasty bits of time-travelling kit need sorting out. Kat is soon involved in fighting her battle on that front too.
At one point, a slightly-less-rumpled Neil tries to discuss the problem of all of these time paradoxes with “Main Character Played By John David Washington”, but by that point you’re just waiting for the third act to start and for things to blow up into billions of little time-travelling pieces whilst Sator’s smirky face gets punched in the process. So, I’m going to point over in this direction if you really care about the philosophical implications of time inversion.
Tenet has lots of really impressive car-chasing (in both directions), fight sequences (in many directions), much running about… in more than one timeline… I think… did I mention already that this film will require more than one viewing? I’m looking forward to the second one, probably in a back row with a notepad so I can trace all the pathways of the characters.
But, like a woman diving gracefully off the edge of a yacht, this is an eye-candy action-sequence-heavy-experience. If you’re like me and just enjoy the little things – like the opportunity to continue to go out to a movie theatre in these pandemic times and elbow a friend during the opera house scene and mutter “Hey, remember when there were opera houses, and going to a performance without hand sanitiser fountains everywhere?” – then this is your flick. And it’s going to be worth seeing twice.