By Jacob Sahms
As director of the Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan broke through in the superhero genre. For those who only know him as “that” kind of director, the portfolio of mind-bending, time-twisting, memory-doubting films he’s made like Memento, Inception, and Interstellar are significantly less straightforward. (His film about magicians (The Prestige) in part bridged the gap between the mainstream and the twisty kind of story he enjoys telling.) With the crazy way that 2020 ripped films from theaters, Nolan’s Tenet is sure to hit a new wave of audiences as it releases on digital, Blu-ray, and 4K HD.
Tenet is clearly Nolan’s kind of film.
Following an American agent (John David Washington) intent on preventing a nuclear war, the film jumps timelines and storylines endlessly for two and a half hours. While Washington’s Protagonist seems to know little beyond what the audience can see, the action careens around the idea that someone in the future has found a way to travel to the past and disrupt history. Motivations are cloudy; science is … unknowable, but the action is intense and charged with electricity even before the Protagonist falls for the villain’s estranged wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), who has her own agenda for stopping her husband.
The villain in question is Kenneth Branaugh’s Andrei Sator, who rules his criminal enterprise and his home with angry, iron fists. This may be one of my favorite roles for Branaugh, as his very presence seems to invite fear and threaten white-hot rage at any instant while also maintaining a level of chess master cunning. Thankfully, Protagonist isn’t alone: he’s forced to join up with Neil (Robert Pattinson, again, in his best role), who knows more about time traveling than he’s letting on, and may or may not be a reliable fellow agent.
Shot clearly, albeit often darkly, the film crackles on 4K HD even on the home screen, drawing us in, while the soundtrack/audio/dialogue seems incredibly murky, an intentional reflection of how much Protagonist struggles to understand and pick up on what is going on around him, and failing at the same time. While not as opaque as Inception, the film would certainly benefit from another viewing, potentially more enjoyable now knowing what will (or won’t) come creeping out of the shadows at any given time.
Tenet comes across as some sort of futuristic James Bond, with dashes of a humorless Back to the Future II and a better-acted Timecop thrown into the mix. It may not ask the biggest questions of a movie about time, character, greed, lust, and self-centeredness that it could, but it certainly entertains the mind and senses in every way. With deeper featurettes to dive into, there’s enough entertainment to go around (and if any film this year is worth buying to rewatch, it’s this one). It comes down to the heroic question facing everyone: what are you willing to give up that someone else might live?