Review: Tenet

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, October 28th, 2020 at 12:51 PM
Review: Tenet by Aaron Pilgrim

Christopher’s Nolan’s new time-bending thriller, “Tenet,” is an action-packed ride that keeps you on your toes from start to finish. Not to give any spoilers, but if you want to have an idea of what’s happening when things get confusing, remember that word ... “Tenet.”

The saga takes you through the journey of the Protagonist, played excellently by John David Washington (“BlacKkKlansman”). The only moniker we know him by through the entire movie, the Protagonist, or Washington, is a C.I.A. agent tasked with saving the world from annihilation. His brutal performance (including a scene where he mutilates a man with a cheese grater, and others where he generally gives his opponents the business), will have you in the mirror, practicing your punch combinations.

If you’re usually a movie texter, I wouldn’t watch this one. From the beginning of the film, until about the middle (and even the end), you’ll pretty much be playing catch up, knowing just enough to get the gist in the end of whose side is winning. But you’ll still be walking out of the theater scratching your head trying to piece together what exactly you just watched. 

This is by no fault of your own. Nolan seems to want us as confused as the Protagonist is, forcing us to experience things in the same manner. The movie begins in an ironic state, a packed opera hall while you’ll most likely be in a close-to-empty theater. 

Nonetheless, as the film opens, the opera hall is being held up by gunman, and the Protagonist has infiltrated this invasion by posing as one of the attackers. Here, he aims to secure an asset and save all the hostages from a bomb about to explode. It’s during this firefight that we and the Protagonist first meet inversion. He sees a bullet travel back through a nearby seat and the wood around the bullet hole is obliterated.

Inversion is what I briefly described, with characters and objects moving backward through time as others move forward. But to not give out any spoilers, I won’t go any further.

Robert Pattinson (“Twilight,” the upcoming “The Batman”) plays the mysterious Neil, an operative who is vital to the Protagonist’s mission. The two characters that give the story the most emotion are Kat, played by Elizabeth Debicki (“Widows”), who is the unhappy wife of our antagonist, Sator, played by Kenneth Branagh (“Dunkirk,” “Murder on the Orient Express”).

They seem to make the human element of the story go. Kat serves as extra motivation for the Protagonist, given they’ve both been put in similar situations and may even have feelings for each other. 

Other than that relationship, though, “Tenet” is very emotionally distant, and thus, very different from Nolan’s past films like “Inception” or “Interstellar.” In “Inception,” we know the purpose and motives behind Leonardo Dicaprio’s character, which made it that much more compelling. But in “Tenet,” we know so little about each character that it seems Nolan wants us at an arm's length. 

By the end, you’ll get some kind of a reveal, but it won’t enhance the characters, only the plot. Nolan accomplishes a lot within this timeframe which keeps you vastly entertained. Unfortunately, whoever is filling that frame doesn’t really matter.

This film definitely will take multiple viewings to truly appreciate it. This is because so much is hidden throughout the movie. Very important insert shots happen very quickly early on, which mean a lot to the characters.

It’s not Nolan’s best film by a longshot from a narrative perspective. But from a technical angle, “Tenet” is brilliant. The scenes he’s able to pull off are astounding — people moving forward while some people moving backwards, and these people fight and are even in car chases together.

It is truly entertaining from start to finish.

Oscar winner Ludwig Goransson composed this score and it’s truly marvelous. It dominates so much, in fact, that the music overtakes a lot of the dialogue at times. This aspect makes it harder to hear the already difficult dialogue, but all in all it works.

If you go into this movie looking for “The Dark Knight,” you will not get it, but you won’t be disappointed with “Tenet” either.

Aaron Pilgrim is a staff writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at

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