This was my first visit to the cinema in months and since lockdown. As it was a sole visit in a reviewing capacity, it mattered not that I was socially distanced. Elbows flailing to their hearts content, I settled down.
It was going to take a special kind of film to distract me from the facemask. At 150 minutes, this was going to be a whole lot of facemask.
Up for the challenge was Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, a palindromic promise of international action, espionage and time-travel. But not as you know it.
With a dose of plutonium thrown in, so far so Back to the Future. Similarities ending right there. Whereas Back to the Future took a decent modicum of understanding of the science fiction thrown at you (and without posting a picture of my birth certificate, I was at primary school at the time), Tenet was there to make the brain work harder.
The basic premise (ok, maybe not too basic) is actually that this is less time-travel, more time ‘inversion’.
Time inversion, the inversion of time. It’s where time can move backwards. As well as moving forwards. And can do so at the same time. And if you’re in the middle of this madness, just don’t meet yourself (ask Jennifer in Back to the Future).
All I have for you is a word: Tenet.
It will open the right doors; some of the wrong ones, too.
Use it carefully.
And so our Protagonist (John David Washington) is charged with not only saving the world from obliteration, but transcending the ‘classic’ linear time concept to do so.
And as our Protagonist (with a capital P), Washington provides a steady hand on the tiller and brings something of a unique vulnerability to the ‘hero of the piece’ whilst still managing to stimulate faith and confidence in the audience. We’re all learning on the job here. But whether he’s operating in the future, the past, the present or all three at the same time, he has you invested.
At times (and in this film the word ‘times’ carries heavier weight) the Robin to his Batman is ‘Neil’, played by Robert Pattinson – an actor who is more than proving his range, last seen in the dark, ravaged, atmospheric The Lighthouse – ‘Son’ to Dafoe’s ‘Steptoe’.
Pay no heed to my seemingly glib pop culture comparisons though, I mean no disrespect – he’s a scene-stealer against worthy adversaries.
The Protagonist must work against Kenneth Branagh’s uncompromisingly sinister, yet ever-so slightly cliched Russian arms dealer, Andrei Sator.
Whilst the threats and ‘seeths’ were sometimes so wantonly whispered by Branagh that I lost the line, they were sufficient in chilling me all the same.
Sator’s younger, clipped-toned, English wife Katherine (played beautifully and charismatically by Elizabeth Debicki) commands the screen as she keeps the Protagonist guessing with her own private vengeance.
With one’s mission to keep Sator alive, one’s to see him dead, it’s almost that classic tale of spy meets girl meets villain meets spy.
So now you’re thinking, so far so Bond film? No, it’s smarter. You’re kept on your toes, You’re being introduced to a new time theory and spin-off elements thereof throughout the film, but with enough visual stimulation and good old-fashioned story and intrigue to entertain your basic senses and, well, care enough to keep the brain-cells working.
It was the right call to wait for the opportunity to give this a cinematic release rather than go straight to digital following recent Covid-19 challenges.
As with all Christopher Nolan gifts to the world, they deserve nothing less than a big screen and a cinematic sound system to host the electric cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema and chest-pounding music of Ludwig Goransson, the score, at times, cleverly creating an illusion of a sequence of notes inverted without sounding as satanic as a backward-playing Beatles record.
How very 60s of me.
Back to today and going to the cinema, like anything at the moment, may feel a funny prospect but a film like this will not only make you glad you took the time to follow the one-way system and take your socially distanced seat, but will almost make you forget the facemask you’re valiantly wearing.
Faint praise indeed.
Tenet is on UK general release from Wednesday 26 August.
Full case and credits can be found here at IMDB.
Pics credit: Melinda Sue Gordon, Warner Bros.