Christopher Nolan continues to push the envelope of storytelling through his mind-bending plots and special effects. His latest effort, Tenet, might be his highest concept yet; an action thriller where a CIA agent played by John David Washington, credited only as The Protagonist, tries to save the world from a very peculiar threat. He teams up with Neil (Robert Pattinson) to investigate an organisation operating in the future where technology is being used to make objects move in reverse. This leads them to Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) and his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), and when they discover the magnitude of the danger, they must manipulate time to overcome the odds.
Crafted over a five year period, Nolan has constructed a sleek and stylish premise and with his pioneering action sequences, it is a technical spectacle. However, the intricacies in the script are in place at the expense of emotional stakes. Characters are underdeveloped, reduced to mere pawns in the complicated story. They move from A to B as paradoxical theories are mansplained in monologues to keep the audience in check with what’s happening; like a smug comedian demonstrating in great detail why their jokes are so clever and funny.
There are no poor performances in this piece, but nobody is given enough material to really make a lasting impact. The talents of John David Washington and Robert Pattinson are stripped back and restrained; there’s glimpses of a fun bromance between them but it’s left largely unexplored. A domestic abuse plotline plays out between the arrogant antagonist and his long suffering wife so Branagh and Debicki grapple it out in the film’s few emotional scenes. Kat is frustratingly the latest in a long line of sacrificial female characters written by Nolan, depicted as the damsel-in-distress as a device to give menace to the villain who, otherwise, would be a middle-aged rich man stomping around a yacht in his sliders.
Ambitiously complex yet contrived and a little too clinical in its delivery, time-rewind thriller Tenet is an impressive, entertaining blockbuster that doesn’t always know if it’s coming or going. In an early moment, a scientist explains some technological advancements to The Protagonist and says, ‘don’t try to understand it, just feel it’. As a cinema experience, I unfortunately struggled with both.