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Nolan’s “Tenet” is a cerebral spy flick with a punch

Warning: this movie will melt your brain, and I mean that in the best way possible. 

“Tenet” is the newest film from acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, who you may remember from the good Batman movies (you know the ones), the slightly confusing but enthralling “Inception,” “Interstellar,” and my personal favorite “Memento” — the list goes on. Needless to say, Nolan is proven box office gold, and with his latest film, he has put his absurdly high production budget of over $200 million to good use, creating one of the most mind bending, heart thumping, action movies to date.

The movie kicks off strong, without any sort of intro sequence, opting for a hard cut from the last trailer straight into an intense, undercover seige of an opera house wherein a hostage situation is unfolding. The camera follows a CIA agent, known only as the Protagonist played by the son of renowned actor Denzel Washington, John David Washington, as he infiltrates the local police force to gain entry. During this scene, he witnesses something unspeakable, and shortly thereafter, when he is detained by Russian security forces, he bites into a cyanide pill and discovers that he has been recruited to work for a group known only as “Tenet.” He follows the trail of the “inverted” bullet to various contacts, including the affable Neil, portrayed by Robert Pattinson, and discovers that a Russian oligarch of the most corrupt and depraved order has acquired the power to travel back through time to enrich and empower himself. Things get progressively worse for the buddy-cop-like duo as they come face to face with time-traveling bad guys, paradoxes that will make your head spin and consequences of the highest order in their quest to save the world.

It may not be Nolan’s best work, as the script can feel a bit clunky at times with more than a few unintentionally comical lines. All jokes aside, the actors all hit the mark with their performances, with a highlight on Pattinson’s charming and friendly Neil and Kenneth Branagh’s terrifying portrayal of the maniacal oligarch Andrei Sator. My one gripe with some of the character development is that most players seem to lack motive, save Elizabeth Debicki’s character Kat, who struggles to remove her son out from under the iron grip of the sadistic Sator. Otherwise, under the watchful eye of Nolan, everything appears quite polished, the shots are breathtaking, the locations timeless and the action sequences impeccably put together. There are too many scenes to count where characters, or in some sequences tens of them, walk backward or complete an action in reverse in the same shot. It’s mind-blowing to watch, and even more confusing when trying to comprehend how the shot was captured. 

Nolan manages to make a film that leaves you wondering what details you might have missed or what plot points you might be able to discover had you looked harder. This is in no way a detriment, as the progression flows naturally, and the plot makes sense upon its first viewing. It is, however, an indication of the superb level of craftsmanship that went into its making. At least for me, a great film is something that makes me want to come back to discover new details that enrich my viewing experience time and time again. Nolan has assuredly done this with “Tenet,” and I know I’ll be back.

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