John David Washington in ‘Tenet’.
WHERE TO WATCH:
Sunday, 26 September at 20:05 on M-Net (DStv 101)
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
A secret agent embarks on a dangerous, time-bending mission to prevent the start of World War III.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
I can’t remember what my last movie in the cinema was before lockdown – it feels like another lifetime already – but what better way to step back into the theatres than with a high-stakes Christopher Nolan film. True to form, Tenet might just be one of his most confusing films ever, and while there are always complicated maths in movie time travel, Nolan’s approach inverts and twists it into something otherworldly.
We start our bizarre journey with a nameless CIA agent on a mission that goes sideways, who gets recruited to the secretive Tenet to help save the world from an invisible enemy.
If you’re in any way in the mood for a mindless action movie with big explosions, Tenet is not the one for you. While it has some of the most spectacular action sequences I have ever witnessed on screen, it requires an intense focus on the part of the audience to try and make sense of what’s going on. Nolan doesn’t do easy-to-follow expositions and at some point, you might even get angry at the convolutedness of it all. You might think it’s just shoddy storytelling, but if you’re familiar with the director’s unique vision, it’s all on par.
There is, however, one debilitating flaw that I can’t forgive, especially for someone whose hearing is not a thousand percent. At first, I thought it was the fault of the cinema – Imax – that the dialogue was drowned out by background noise, specifically when vital information was being explained. Maybe because they were closed for so long, the audio streams weren’t properly calibrated or something. But the cinema wasn’t to blame – a quick online search revealed that audiences around the world were complaining about this wonky sound mixing, some even claiming that it was done on purpose to make the experience more “visceral” and “engaging”. I am all for experimenting with filmmaking and subverting expected norms – but if I can’t hear what people are saying my experience is going to sour fast, especially when the plot is so incredibly dense and you’re holding on to a hundred interconnected strands for dear life.
Moving past the mixing horror, the score from Ludwig Göransson, however, is gorgeous and surprising, creating a unique sound palette for what’s essentially an intelligent action movie. Combine this with magisterial cinematography where the magnitude of the special effects is matched by its larger-than-life sets – a highway car chase, a giant ship in the middle of the ocean, a skyscraper in Mumbai and a Russian opera house. These formidable scenes are juxtaposed by quiet, intimate scenes in smaller spaces, and you’ll be in awe of that beauty even if you can’t hear what’s going on.
And I can’t even start explaining how ludicrous and jaw-dropping the final battle scene is. That one is going to go down in the history books.
While actors will always play an important role in the success of a film, this is one where they felt like secondary players in the grand scheme of things and could have easily been swapped out for other actors without impacting on the film itself. Not that they (John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki) weren’t brilliant and that they all offered graceful and emotional performances worthy of a Nolan art piece. It’s just that the film and its director were much bigger than themselves and luckily, their egos didn’t come in the way of that.
Tenet is the kind of film that will make you angry and thrilled at the same time. You’ll leave with some resentment for the confusing storytelling.
Simmer in that for a while, pondering about what you don’t understand. After a while, those feelings will turn into awe – an appreciation for the art of filmmaking and the realisation why you might still want to see movies in a cinema.
Tenet is now showing in cinemas.