Sunday, August 27, 2023

Review: "TENET" May Have Been 2020's Best Film

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 39 of 2023 (No. 1928) by Leroy Douresseaux

Tenet (2020)
Running time:  150 minutes (2 hours, 30 minutes)
MPA – PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Christopher Nolan
PRODUCERS:  Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Hoyte Van Hoytema (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Jennifer Lame
COMPOSER:  Ludwig Goransson
Academy Award winner


Starring:  John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Dimple Kapadia, Himesh Patel, Denzil Smith, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Clémency Poséy, Fiona Dourif, Laurie Shepherd, Martin Donovan, and Kenneth Branagh and Michael Caine

Tenet is a 2020 science fiction, secret agent, and action-thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan.  The film, Nolan's eleventh as a director, is a co-production between the United Kingdom and the United States.  Tenet focuses on a CIA operative on a mission to save the world, armed with only one word, “Tenet.”

Tenet introduces a CIA operative known only as "The Protagonist" (John David Washington).  The Protagonist leads a covert CIA extraction during a staged terrorist siege at the National Opera House in Kyiv., Ukraine.  After he is injured and the mission goes badly, the Protagonist is recruited by a secretive organization known only by the word, “Tenet.”  He is told that with a gesture, Tenet can “open the right doors and the wrong doors.”

He is briefed about bullets with “invertedentropy that move backwards through time.  It seems that the man who possesses the technology to invert entropy is a Russian oligarch named Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh).  The technology has been given to Sator from mysterious forces in the future, and those forces are also sending Sator the pieces of something called the “Algorithm,” which is a threat to the present world.

Suddenly, the Protagonist finds himself surrounded by a menagerie of people he cannot quite trust or really know.  That includes the Mumbai-based arms dealer, Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia), and Sator's estranged and abused wife, Katherine “Kat” Barton (Elizabeth Debicki).  Another is Ives (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Tenet military commander.  Most mysterious of all is Neil (Robert Pattinson), who is supposed to be the Protagonist's “handler” from Tenet, and Neil seems to know the Protagonist in ways he does not know Neil.  Now, the Protagonist must uncover the secrets of inversion, the secrets of the Algorithm, and perhaps, even the secrets of himself.

Christopher Nolan gained many fans for his series of films starring DC Comics' Batman, known as “The Dark Knight Trilogy”: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).  However, Tenet is closer to Nolan's films such as Memento (2000), Insomnia (2002), The Prestige (2006), and Inception (2010), which, like Tenet, have some combination of complex plots and character time lines, ambiguous elements, and cleverly hidden details that are open to many theories and interpretations.

Tenet freely plays with the themes of free will and determinism.  Do people really have free will, or is it better that people think that they have free will?  In the end, I think the narrative ultimately decides that free will and determinism are compatible, which is one of many reasons that I love this film.  Many secret agent and spy films offer the illusion that the hero (or the protagonist) is in control.  From the first movie in Eon Productions' “James Bond film series, Dr No (1962), the hero, James Bond, seems to have a measure of control or at least force of will to save the day or often, the world.  One can say the same of Universal Pictures' “Jason Bourne” film series.  It starts with The Bourne Identity (2002), and Matt Damon's Jason Bourne seems to exert free will all the more with each film, although his fate was determined and settled before the narrative of the first film begins.  In Tenet, free will is a work in progress, exercised within the settled plots of determinism.

I love Tenet's cast.  Either The Protagonist was tailor-made for actor John David Washington, or he was the perfect casting.  I feel the same way about Robert Pattison's Neil, and Kenneth Branagh is such a fine actor that he can make any role seem like a real person.  Elizabeth Debicki, honestly, is Oscar-worthy as Kat Barton, and Dimple Kapadia adds a delightful flavor as Priya Singh.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson is all fire, menace, and masculinity as Ives.

I had not seen a Christopher Nolan film since Inception, although I'd planned to see Tenet in a theater.  However, I was really wary of returning to movie theaters during the 2020 year of COVID-19 movie theater shutdowns, even after they reopened.  In a way, that worked out.  I got to savor Tenet on DVD as a way of prepping for eventually seeing his most recent film, Oppenheimer.

I like Tenet's trippy, surreal, time-shifting, inscrutable nature, and I like that Nolan is willing both to throw out a lot of ideas and to engage them.  For me, it is mysterious, a mystery worth losing myself in every chance I get.  As far as my opinion is concerned, Tenet is Christopher Nolan's best, most imaginative, and truly most inventive film.

10 of 10

Sunday, August 27, 2023

2021 Academy Awards, USA:   1 win: “Best Achievement in Visual Effects” (Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley, and Scott R. Fisher); 1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Production Design”
{Nathan Crowley-production design and Kathy Lucas-set decoration)

2021 BAFTA Awards:  1 win: “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Scott R. Fisher, Andrew Jackson, and Andrew Lockley)

2021 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Ludwig Göransson)

2021 Black Reel Awards:  2 nominations: “Outstanding Cinematography” (Hoyte Van Hoytema) and 1 nomination: “Outstanding Production Design” (Nathan Crowley)

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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