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CINEMA REVIEW: TENET (2020)

CINEMA REVIEW: TENET (2020)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Produced by: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan

Written by: Christopher Nolan

Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh, Martin Donovan, Clement Poesy, etc.

Music by: Ludwig Göransson

Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



I am writing this review from the future while travelling backwards to the past to try and alter events which have yet to occur in the present. Confused yet? Jokes aside, Christopher Nolan’s latest temporally challenging and narratively inverted blockbuster, TENET (2020), is actually not as complicated as some would lead you to believe. However, that’s because I’ve been training my brain with such mind-boggling adventures in time, space and dimensions while watching the third season of the ingenious German sci-fi drama, DARK (2020), this week. Safe to say however, TENET is still rather complex and probably unnecessarily so. Yet, Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker who loves exploring challenging scientific concepts and marrying them to hugely involving plots and stylish spectacular action. All credit to him too for pushing himself and the audience!

TENET opens with a fast-paced set-piece located at a Ukrainian opera house. A SWAT team, that includes our unnamed hero, (John David Washington), is there to save a spy and obtain an unidentified object, which will of course become an integral part of the plot later or earlier on in the story. From then on, ‘The Protagonist’, as he later becomes known, becomes embroiled in stopping the megalomaniacal plans of Russian oligarch, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). In order to do so he attempts to infiltrate and stop Sator via his bullied wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). Here the Protagonist builds a bond to Kat and this provides the emotional glue of the film. Although, I’ll be honest, I was too busy thinking about the machinations of Nolan’s head-twirling approach to temporal structure, than actually feel much for the characters.



What the film lacks in emotional depth it more than makes up with spectacular action. There are at least six incredible set-pieces that involve hand-to-hand combat, fast-paced vehicle pursuit, bungee-jumping and all-out combat between various government and mercenary factions. Nolan and his production team twist the action with a visually mirrored trick which, well I won’t say anymore. Moreover, the grandiose style and cinematography are eye-popping. Sharp suits, sharper knives and futuristic masks are adorned by the characters giving the spy thriller a hyperreal edge. Similarly, the stunts and editing are superbly orchestrated and executed. Having said that, the sound design and dialogue could have been better. Far be it from me to criticize, but in striving for verisimilitude in the sound, the constant wearing of masks meant important dialogue lacked clarity. Likewise, in the final amazing set-piece I was lost amidst the bodies and explosions as to who was who and why and what and how. Clearly a second and third watch of TENET (2020) is in order.

While the action was pretty much flawless throughout, the screenplay, unlike say Nolan’s prior high-concept masterpiece, INCEPTION (2010), did lack character depth for me. While I realise this was Nolan’s intention, hardly any time is given setting up the characters. So much so they become cyphers within the plot. Nonetheless, the charisma of the cast, notably John David Washington and the impressive Robert Pattinson, dominates the screen and the two bounce off each other magnetically. Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh also bring much to their roles, however their subplot involving domestic abuse felt out of place in such a post-modern spectacle. Moreover, Branagh’s oligarch was, in certain scenes, verging on parodic cliche. I wondered if the villain of the piece could have been a little less B-movie heavy at times and possibly more cultured. This is a minor gripe though. After all, he is the bad guy!

Ultimately, TENET (2020) is a big, brash and confident Bond-type film with bells on. Sure, the rules of the world could have been excavated and presented somewhat clearer. But, Nolan favours a breakneck pace and be damned if you cannot keep up. Indeed, I am certain he has covered all the plot-holes (or paradoxes) I thought I saw and numerous questions I had by the end. While it is not without flaws, on first watch, I once again have to congratulate Christopher Nolan for striving for original thinking and fascinating concepts within a genre film. One may even argue that there are too many ideas here and simplification could have created a more emotionally satisfying film. However, there are many moments of cinematic genius in TENET (2020), notably in the Sisyphean payoffs within the inverted plot structure. Finally, one won’t see a more shiny and beautiful looking film all year. The future is bright: the future is Christopher Nolan.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


THE PRESTIGE – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW

THE PRESTIGE (2006) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW

**YOU KNOW THE DRILL – SPOILERS!**

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With Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) orbiting the cinemas this week I thought I’d look back at the film which he made in between breathing life into the Batman franchise.   No doubt Nolan is an important genre filmmaker and as his budgets have got more grandiose then so have his ideas.  I just love that he is interested in attempting to make intelligent blockbusters where ideas, character and theme lead the story rather than rely simply on action, explosions and special effects (no offence Michael Bay.)

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Memento (2000) was a stunning and complex low-budget noir which dealt with obsession, murder and memory and Nolan continued these themes in superior cop thriller Insomnia (2002). Having delivered a cracking origins film in Batman Begins (2005) the director followed this up with a story about battling magicians based on Christopher Priest’s novel called The Prestige (2006).  For me it confirmed him as a force-to-be-reckoned with director. Following on the themes and tropes established in his prior films, The Prestige is centred around two obsessives brilliantly portrayed by the always excellent Christian Bale as Alfred Borden and the never-been-better (until Prisoners (2013), Hugh Jackman, playing his bitter rival, Robert Angier. The story starts at the end with Borden facing the hangman for Angier’s murder. After which the narrative flashes back to a time when the pair were freshman trick-smiths learning the ropes from mentor Cutter (always solid Michael Caine). When the cockney and cocky Bordens’ actions accidentally lead to the death of Angiers’ wife (Piper Perabo) – during a particularly complex and dangerous trick – the two go their separate ways. This sets in motion a story full of bitter twists of active and reactive vengeance. Each protagonist becomes so obsessed outdoing the other –  with the ultimate trick – they are prepared to sacrifice the ones they love in doing so.

The film is rich in plot, character and theme and investigates thoroughly the very human aspects of obsession and revenge. The double or doppleganger trope is also integral to the story as the writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan literally dissect the characters’ souls. The gritty, dirty period of Victorian London is wonderfully evoked and the fascinating world of magicians and their mysterious secrets is expertly represented. At it’s heart the story begins by showing us the cons of the magicians and the lengths they will go to amaze and astound an audience. By the end though the film becomes something much different with a chilling and fantastic turn which you think you see but ultimately don’t see coming.

Brilliantly directed by Christopher Nolan The Prestige is inventive, intelligent and ingenious. His cast does not let the magical screenplay down with the gorgeous Scarlett Johannson and – albeit briefly – pretty Piper Perabo bringing some glamour to the gritty proceedings. Rebecca Hall is also on commanding form bringing a subtle pain to the role of Borden’s wife.

Overall, it’s a challenging big-budget tale in which you never quite know what is real or what is a con. It keeps you guessing to the end, leaving you with a jaw-dropping final act as the story moves from sleight-of-hand tricks to science fact and finally science fiction. Ultimately, the film successfully combines fantastical, existential, and scientific elements. The film gives us a kind of magic but asks whether it’s worth the damage it causes to lives? THAT, for me, is The Prestige’s greatest trick.