Ever since the Coronavirus pandemic began to spread its wings across the world, most of the big, Hollywood films were immediately postponed first to 2020-end and then to 2021. Warner Bros’ TENET was the only film that took the brave decision of releasing in the USA and other international markets amid the pandemic, in August-end and September. It didn’t get a release in India then as cinemas here were shut. Now that the theatres are finally operational, the much awaited Christopher Nolan directed film has been released on the big screen. So does TENET manage to entertain and thrill the audiences, in true Nolan style? Or does it fail to impress? Let’s analyse.
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TENET is the story of a secret agent fighting for the survival of the entire world from an unbelievable threat. An unnamed CIA agent, the ‘Protagonist’ (John David Washington) takes up the identity of SWAT soldiers and along with his team mates, participate in an undercover operation at an opera house in Kiev, Ukraine. The Protagonist’s mission is to rescue a target and acquire an unknown package. Sadly, the mission fails for him and he is captured. He is tortured and forced to reveal his identity and his organization. The Protagonist, however, choses to die by consuming a pill of cyanide. Luckily, he doesn’t lose his life. It is revealed that the mission was a fake and was conducted to test his loyalty. Having passed the test, he is employed by a secret organization called Tenet. He is taken to a research facility where Laura (Clémence Poésy) informs him that they have come across several objects whose entropy has been reversed and are moving back in time. The Protagonist, obviously, gets confused and she explains the concept to him by making him fire inverted bullets. The Protagonist is surprised that instead of hitting the target, the inverted bullets jump out of the target and move backward to enter the gun. She also informs him that these objects are from the future and that this phenomenon can threaten their present and also their past. In order to get more information on these bullets, the Protagonist reaches Mumbai. Here, he takes the help of a local contact, Neil (Robert Pattinson), in getting an audience with Sanjay Singh (Denzil Smith), an arms dealer. Neil says that won’t possible and that they’ll have to infiltrate his mansion. The Protagonist agrees and both secretly enter his house and capture Sanjay. However, it comes to light that Sanjay is just a front and that it is his wife Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia) who calls the shots. She tells the Protagonist that her ammunition was purchased and possibly time-inverted by a Russian oligarch, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). The Protagonist then goes to London to meet Sir Michael Crosby (Michael Caine) who advises him that he should contact Andrei’s wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) and through her, he can establish contact with the oligarch. Kat is an art appraiser who recently had sold a fake Goya painting to her husband. The Protagonist decides to follow the same route. He approaches her with another fake Goya, hoping that she’ll use it to introduce him to Andrei. However, she reveals to him that after she sold the forged painting to Andrei, he found out the truth and has used it to blackmail and control her. The Protagonist then decides to steal the painting that she sold him from the place where it’s stored – a Freeport at Oslo airport, Norway. With the help of a pilot, Mahir (Himesh Patel), they get an airplane to crash at the Freeport facility and make it seem like a case of unknown robbers trying to rob gold bars from the aircraft. The Protagonist and Neil use this attack as an opportunity to infiltrate the facility to steal the forged painting. As they enter the facility and get busy with their work, they suddenly get attacked by two mysterious SWAT members who emerge from a strange revolving door. What’s more, one of them is inverted and is moving backwards in time! What happens next forms the rest of the film.
Christopher Nolan’s story is puzzling, simply put! He has thought of a concept that is truly out of this world and something that forces audiences to put the entire grey cell in their brains into motion. Christopher Nolan’s screenplay is captivating and keeps audiences hooked despite the 150 minutes run-time. However, a few scenes are sure to get over the top for the audiences and compel them to check the plot on Wikipedia or to Google ‘Tenet Explained’ after they exit the theatre. Christopher Nolan’s dialogues are sharp and also provide the much-needed humour in the film.
Christopher Nolan’s direction is supreme. It requires guts and conviction to pull off a concept of this sort and also make it cinematically appealing and entertaining. In this regard, he succeeds big time. The film is replete with some very thrilling and dramatic moments, some of which are never before seen on celluloid, and these keep the interest going. There are some twists and turns in the second half which are sure to shock viewers and give them their money’s worth. On the flipside, one wishes if the film was a bit simpler. There are times when it seems like a few scenes or goings-on are purposely made complex. However, this move backfires in a few scenes, more so in the first half. Also, slight parallels can also be drawn to AVENGERS: ENDGAME  which also dealt with time travel and had a complicated concept. Yet, the execution made it so simpler and all kinds of audiences were able to understand what’s going on. One wishes if TENET was also on the same lines as the impact then would have been manifold.
TENET begins on a very thrilling note with the attack at the Kiev Opera House. As expected, the film goes in the ‘Nolan zone’ in no time as mysterious developments start taking place. The scene of the Protagonist with the scientist Laura is when the audiences are introduced to the invert concept. This is followed by the Mumbai scene which is thankfully simpler and also quite exciting. The introduction of the characters of Kat and Andrei Sator gives a nice touch to the narrative. The attack at the Freeport at Oslo is gripping especially when a man moving in reverse attacks the Protagonist. The confusion levels go many notches higher from hereon. After all, the concept itself is difficult to understand and on top of that, there’s so much happening that doesn’t make sense and it’s sure to leave audiences bewildered. Thankfully, post-interval, things become clearer. Some of the questions get answered fantastically, especially when the Protagonist also goes in reverse for a significant reason. The climax is thrilling as we see two teams instigating an attack – one moving forward in time and one moving backward – with another track running parallel in Vietnam. The final scene is unexpected but leaves audiences with a lot of questions.
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Talking of performances, John David Washington, who recently got loads of accolades for his role in BLACKKKLANSMAN , gives yet another praiseworthy performance. The confusion and challenges that he goes through is very well conveyed by him, more so with his expressions and body language. Robert Pattinson is dependable as always. His character is stylish, a bit mysterious and someone who knows how to get the job done and Robert portrays it with perfection. Elizabeth Debicki has a difficult part and impresses the maximum. She gives the best performance in the movie and she is excellent in the crucial climax sequence. Kenneth Branagh is excellent as the villain and leaves a mark. Dimple Kapadia has an important role and is quite confident and impressive. Himesh Patel lends able support. Clémence Poésy is great in the cameo. Michael Caine is there for just a scene but he is adorable. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ives) is decent although one wishes his character was a bit more defined. Denzil Smith hardly gets any scope.
Ludwig Göransson’s music is outstanding and one of the best parts of the film. The background score elevates impact in many scenes. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is spectacular. The scenes are captured in a way that makes them ideal for a big-screen watch. The scenes of Mumbai are well shot as well. Same goes for the action as well. It adds to the grandeur. And thankfully, it’s not gory. Nathan Crowley’s production design is very rich in all respects. The VFX is first-class and especially the inverted scenes are seen to be believed. The sound is not upto the mark in a few scenes. The dialogues get a bit inaudible or get overshadowed by the other noise in the scene. Thankfully, the film is released in India with English subtitles and that saves the day. Jennifer Lame’s editing is a bit haphazard at few places but some scenes are exceptionally cut.
On the whole, TENET does confuse and puzzle the viewers but it also provides a brilliant cinematic experience thanks to its concept, music score, VFX and action. At the Indian box office, it can emerge as a success because of the hype, Nolan’s fan following and also because it’s a rare, exciting film to have released in cinemas in the pandemic.