Tenet

Tenet ★★★★½

Tenet is fascinating. An endlessly muscular spy thriller, with hard edits and hours of action. It has Roger Moore James Bond theatrics. All the best scenes look like Miami Vice or Blackhat. It felt like a more playful Inception to me. It is fun and that is being understated in my view.

John David Washington is charismatic in the lead. Convincingly tough, convincingly perplexed. He holds the camera with a stillness, that neither descends into just being a glare, nor does he play up against the fairly silly plot. He is a stoic action hero. Robert Pattinson steals every scene and is a delight every time he shows up. Pattinson is legitimately funny in the film and gets all the best dialogue. The dialogue is ripe, but these actors can work it. Elizabeth Debicki is excellent and carries the real plot and character arc. It is really her film, John David Washington is just the protagonist.

Kenneth Branagh is going to be divisive. I thought he worked. Over the top, scary, kinda hilarious. Mad accent, mad performance. He chews all the scenery. He is a Bond villain. He knows it. Nolan knows it. I am not sure critics have realised it.

Michael Caine appears in a cameo for his buddy Nolan; Aaron Taylor-Johnson adds an unlikely but effective muscularity to the third act and Himesh Patel slips nicely into the Nolan ensemble. At its surface, the cast very much feels like 2020s Inception. Younger, better dressed, more self-aware.

As for the film, the editing is unlike anything Nolan has done. In and out. Jump cuts almost. His grammar is changing. He is almost abrupt in telling his story. He doesn't let you settle. The film breathes, but each breath is cut off, or already underway when you arrive. The film has no shoe-leather. It is all scenes that matter. Or it is all shoe-leather and action is character. I cannot decide.

The dialogue is pure Miami Vice op-sec operations-ese. I was fixed to my seat. Straining to hear. Not caring. It didn't matter. You feel the plot. The Ludwig Göransson score rearranged my brain synapses. It blusters and bangs and drives the film along.

The inverted car chase action scene is brilliantly staged, almost comically long. All of the inverted action scenes are pure spectacle. It is Nolan at his grandest. The gun-heavy opera invasion. The stunning multi-battle ending. Time going back and forth simultaneously, easy to understand, easy to be lost in.

Tenet lacks the emotional highwire intensity of Interstellar, which still feels like his best work, but I need to see Tenet again. Then I want to watch it backwards.

Tenet is hard action, playful sci-fi, and pure cinema.

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