Writer-director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins, Inception, Dunkirk) helms this sci-fi action thriller about a mysterious operative (John David Washington) who manipulates time on a mission to prevent World War III. (150 min.)
Glen We did it! We braved going to the theater. There were only about 25 people, about four-fifths of whom weren't wearing masks—apparently that's not something the theater is interesting in policing—but so far we're still COVID-free and we got to see Nolan's twisty, mind-bending new film on the big screen. It's a puzzler, but like many of his thorniest stories, it's worth the struggle to piece it together. Washington's nameless character is simply known as the protagonist, and as the film begins, he seems as lost as the viewers, but as he begins to piece together how time is being manipulated—something about inverted entropy—we begin to make some sense of what's going on. The short version is he's trying to get close to Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), who seems to have a supply of inverted entropy bullets and more importantly seems to be communicating with the future, which seems to want to destroy the present. As a way in, the protagonist gets close to Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), Sator's abused wife and mother of his son. Thus begins a race to recover something Sator is searching for, and the whole affair turns into a running battle between agents from the future and agents from the present, including Neil (Robert Pattinson), leading to a closed Russian city in Siberia where the final battle plays out ... but when you can control time, will the battle ever end?
Anna Nolan certainly loves to build a puzzle, and Tenet is a time-bending, suspenseful example of that. It's a tense, serious 2 1/2 hours of pieced-together story in the forward and backward world of time. Being back in the theater was definitely a little weird, but this is a film that is meant to be seen on the big screen. While the long runtime was a bit much for me, the storyline needed it, and the film stayed engaging throughout. For me it felt a bit like Nolan decided to take his previous film Inception and tweak it into more of an action film, and while the bending of time and how it is controlled can get confusing, sometimes you just have to be a little OK with confusion and move on. While Washington is the star of the show, I dug into Kat's story more than anything. Her brutish husband holds their son's life over her, threatening that he will use his power and influence to guarantee she will not see her child again if she ever were to leave. He's a villain to a T, and you can't help but hope that he gets taken down and she gets to be the one to do it.
Glen Kat's definitely the emotional heart of the film. Aside from saving the world, keeping Kat and her son safe becomes the protagonist's main motivator. There are some very inventive and satisfying moments in the film, which we can't reveal without spoiling it somewhat, but suffice it to say, Nolan is a very clever writer and he's apparently been puzzling over this story for a decade. I have a feeling repeat viewings will enlarge my appreciation of this film as they did when I first saw Memento (2000), Nolan's second feature film, which I've watched probably a dozen times. Should you venture into the theater to see Tenet? I guess it depends on how risk averse you are. We wore our masks all the way through—nearly three hours with all the trailers—and I sure wish our fellow theatergoers had too.
Anna I was very frustrated that other patrons ignored the CinemaSafe guidelines that the Regal Theater reopened under; quite honestly it made it pretty difficult for me to enjoy the movie. Hopefully the theaters will adjust and police these policies to keep patrons and their staff safe. As someone who tends to multitask during home viewings, this was a good one for me to see in the theater. I couldn't get too distracted. If I did, I think I would have lost the time-bending plot along the way. Like you said, I'm guessing another viewing will help solidify some of the confusing bits for me. Tenet was also released on streaming services, so even if you don't feel like braving the outside world, it's worth a watch at home—just make sure to give yourself a good chunk of time to digest this one. Δ
Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at email@example.com.