Tenet (2020) reviewed

My last movie review has been a while ago. Since dissecting Parasite (2019), I have streamed many films and have borrowed my share of DVDs. Earlier today, I’ve finished watching Tenet. The latter is Christopher Nolan’s latest entry and his first since the highly successful Dunkirk (2017). Inception (2009) and Interstellar (2014) remain the only Nolan productions I’ve sighted at the cinemas. This effort has shades of both works, combining elements of time travel and manipulation in a visually stunning backdrop. Tenet was one of the most anticipated movies of last year and stars John David Washington as the Protagonist.

One word

Armed with only one word, tenet, the protagonist seeks to save the whole world from the claws of an ogre. At the onset, he survives a massacre in an Ukranian centre. He is then recruited by a mysterious organisation called Tenet. He is made aware of inverted entropy, where bullets move back in time. They are manufactured in the future and are remains of a future war. The bullets lead him to Mumbai and Priya Singh, a local arms dealer. Here, he meets Neil (Robert Pattinson), who becomes an ally in his mission. Together, they bungee jump in order to share a tete-a-tete with Singh. They subsume that Priya is an enlistee of Tenet, and that she obtained them from Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), the Russian oligarch.

Willowy Kat

This leads to an encounter with Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), the Russian’s estranged better half. Slender and over six feet tall, Debicki towers over both Branagh and Washington. The meetup has to do with a forged drawing, which Sator used as leverage in their relationship. The Protagonist and Neil move on a freeport at Oslo to salvage the caricature. Here they uncover the so-called ‘turnstile’ and outsmart two masked figures who seemed to have developed from said turnstile. Priya explains to them that the turnstile is a sort of TARDIS and that the masked riders were similar feathers going the other way.

On Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Kat makes the introduction between the Protagonist and Andrei. They learn that the sketch is whole. While Sator is about to murder the Protagonist, the latter saves his life after Kat tries to submerge him. The two opposites agree to work together, attempting to locate a case that purportedly has Plutonium-241. In Tallinn, Estonia, the Protagonist and Neil mount a surprise attack on a convoy, stealing the case, which indeed carries the lost artefact in Kiev. However, they are themselves ambushed by a backpedalling Sator, who holds Kat hostage. The Protagonist hands over an empty case and leaves, rescuing Kat. However, he is soon caught and brought to the warehouse, which has a turnstile.

Andrei Sator

This is when things get thick. There are a few do-si-dos, an inverted Sator and his non-inverted counterpart. With each edition, the viewer would cringe at Andrei’s sleaziness. He is not only an abusive husband; nothing satisfies him. As a youngster in the Soviet Union, he forged his path by taking a punt when no one else dared. ‘One man’s probability of death is another’s possibility of life,’ he uttered. He even quotes some Whitman to get his point across: ‘We live in a twilight world.’

We learn from Priya that Sator is trying to construct an algorithm that would be catastrophic to the planet. Thus, what ensues is a race against time to stop the madman. Kat reveals that her husband has pancreatic cancer, and he wants the world to end on his terms. The protagonist infers that Sator wishes to travel back to an earlier trip to Vietnam, where he will meet his Maker during the last time that he was happy. Interestingly, both Pattinson and Branagh have appeared in the Harry Potter film series. Meanwhile, the group traces the algorithm back to Sator’s native Northern Siberia. An elite squad is deployed to undo the mess.

The critics have spoken

In this film, we tackle such alien terms as ‘hypocrater’ and ‘temporal pincer’. The apex of the movie indeed utilises the latter phrase. The flick offers Nolan fans just what they love, with fast-paced action, time-space manipulation, and mystery at every turn. The non-linear plot was a conundrum to be unlocked. One would have to be sharp through to the end to grasp the true measure of this project. At 144 minutes, Tenet is epic in scope but is in line with previous Nolan running times. I believe that this one mimics Inception more than Interstellar, which has greater existentialist undertones. Regardless, you can count on all of Nolan’s films to be visually stunning. The production also has a postmodern feel, with self-referentiality, the nonlinear timeline, and the lead’s designation as ‘the Protagonist’. The critics were mostly positive toward this movie, but they didn’t convince everyone. While others compared it to James Bond, some have called it out for lacking humour. A few pundits have singled out Branagh’s Russian accent, which they deem ‘silly’. The reviews have ranged from two stars to three and a half (out of four).   


This is the first tentpole film to open since the COVID restrictions in the US. Tenet disappointed, failing to recoup its lavish $200 million budget. However, Pattinson’s sidekick effort impressed me. Washington was likewise convincing in the driver’s seat. The filming locations were dazzling, as it was shot in seven various countries. Among them were Italy, the US, the UK, Estonia, and India. Films are rarely shot in Tallinn, so this was a nice change of pace. The scenes also included a five-day shoot in Mumbai. While Thailand was not featured, the Amalfi Coast was picturesque. No expense was spared in the making of this production. This is the same helmer who gave us The Batman trilogy. I learned that it took Nolan five years to write the screenplay. This is an artist at work.

Rating: 3.7/5

Amalfi Coast, Italy
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