The time-traveling spy thriller that saved movies or didn’t
I saw the Tenet movie. As a Christopher Nolan film, it has all the warmth of a meat locker and features a Ludwig Göransson soundtrack that makes you feel like you’re inside a shipping container. This is appropriate, since half the movie takes place inside shipping containers, except that these shipping containers are time-traveling shipping containers. The lighting is about equally bright inside the shipping containers and outside. In Christopher Nolan movies, the sun never shines, even when it does.
TENET ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Starring:John David Washington, Robert Pattison, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh
Running time: 150 mins
John David Washington plays a CIA agent who a shadowy organization recruits for an important operation on the basis of his lack of personality. He encounters Robert Pattison, who may or may not have COVID in real life but in this movie has the awesome name of Neil. Elizabeth Debicki, playing a popsicle stick, also appears as a key plot point, married to Kenneth Branagh, who sports a salty beard and a hammy Russian accent. Tenet is a keyword that the shadowy organization gives to Washington. He uses it once or twice, but no one seems to care. Michael Caine also appears in one scene to do some sort of Basil Exposition bit.
Tenet has a plot. It involves some kind of device from the future and an algorithm that people from the future are using to destroy the past, or vice versa. None of this means anything, but the characters talk about it in dialogue from a bad existential play. No one exhibits any real human characteristics or emotion. However, the time-travel device and the algorithm do allow for some amazing action sequences, called “temporal pincer movements”, that involve bullets going back into guns and cars reconstructing themselves after a crash. Washington fights himself, Pattison rescues himself or maybe kills himself, it’s hard to tell. There’s a guy with a cool accent who doesn’t seem to have a name. They have to wear oxygen masks while they’re traveling through time or else they won’t be able to breathe or something.
It’s all very impressive and viscerally involving, though Top Secret did it better nearly 40 years ago.
At one point, a cargo airplane slams into an art storage facility, which is apparently located at an airport. That scene appears in the Tenet trailer and also in Airplane! itself.
That’s exactly what the scene looks like, except with a Ludwig Göransson score and a bunch of cars and bullets going backwards.
In this grim take on a James Bond movie, Nolan uses such glamorous locations as Oslo, Norway; Talinn, Estonia; Mumbai, and a few shots of what appear to be the Amalfi coast. Washington and Pattinson are about as attractive a male cast as you can put in a movie these days, but they never appear shirtless. Debicki kisses Washington on the cheek at one point, but it appears to be for time-travel reasons. No one raises his or her voice or really attempts to act, other than Branagh. You can take the man out of Shakespeare, but you can’t take the Shakespeare out of the man.
Also, they don’t use the reverse-time trick in the proper way. Maybe someone should use the device to reverse the flow of time and put the virus back into that Wuhan bat. And someone must stop the guy at the deli from putting mayonnaise on my sandwich. Zip zap zop, the jar of mayo closes and the knife goes back on the shelf. No one need ever know. The fate of the world depends on it.
Tenet is the movie that’s supposed to save cinema. While I believe that theaters should be open and we should trust the public to make their own decisions about their health, I don’t know that this is the chosen one. It’s got some cool mind tricks, but it’s just not that fun to watch. As usual, Christopher Nolan takes himself way too seriously. In a normal world, this would have been the number-five blockbuster of the summer, but as it stands now, it’s the only game in town, and we’re already basically at Labor Day.
I won’t go to the movie theater again until the next time I do.
This concludes my review of the Tenet movie.