But while Nolan focuses hard on chiselling the curves inside
his incredible, labyrinthine world, he neglects the details of those who populate
The characters serve as functionary elements
to a mind-stretching whole. And as enjoyable as it is to decode, learn, and
understand (or even just comprehend) Nolan’s movies, it’s the characters that
keep you hooked and gasping for more. Given that many uncertain cinema-goers (including
this shaky critic) feel anxious about leaving the safety of their homes to
enter the cinema, Tenet might not be the lockdown cure they’re hoping for.
John David Washington as The Protagonist. Photo: Warner Bros./Melinda Sue Gordon
David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) plays the Protagonist (yes, with a
capital P). Unlike Nolan’s other male heroes, the Protagonist has no backstory – operating purely as an agent in the system, obeying the demands of the plot.
Thankfully, he’s more than just a bland government robot. He makes simple wisecracks and wields a cinematic conscience. And he knows his way
around a cheese grater. Washington approaches the Protagonist with a pinch of
humour and a gallon of severity.
initial conceit of Tenet is relatively easy: prevent World War III. After
being accepted into the Tenet organisation, the Protagonist’s teacher (a brief
appearance from Clémence Poésy) lectures him in the art of ‘inversion’. This means
reversing an object’s entropy, ie, tracking its journey backwards through
time. By inverting time, Tenet can prevent something apparently worse than a
nuclear holocaust. Simple as that...
you’re into theoretical physics, you’ll probably have a more profitable time. But for the rest of us, it’s
never entirely clear. Fast and dense explanations strike like machine-gun fire,
and you’re expected to pay attention to all of it. If and when you don’t, the
rest of the film unfolds both backwards and forwards, returning and retreating,
like a surreal, avant-garde experience – but with car chases and expensive
Robert Pattinson plays an ambiguous role in Tenet. Photo: Warner Bros./Melinda Sue Gordon
Pattinson (High Life, The Lighthouse) achieves much as the Protagonist’s pompous but action-ready partner –
proving to be the most curious character of the lot, and one worth rewatching
for. Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk) takes on the evil and cartoonish Russian oligarch Andrei
Sator. He’s the kind of villain that only exists in Bond movies, Branagh scraping
cliché with his unnerving if unfulfilled performance.
Elizabeth Debicki (The Crown, Widows) plays
his estranged wife, the only attempt at a personal, emotional conflict. She brings
shape to Tenet’s only major female character, despite spending much of
the story being the damsel. This is cleverly twisted, but she’s
still weak compared to her male counterparts.
plot is nigh-on impenetrable on the first watch, and its few concerns with character
and backstory aren’t anything new. Nolan’s more concerned with his action
sequences, which blow and bend your mind. Often, it’s enough to simply lay back
and enjoy the technical mastery.
No wonder Tenet took Nolan six
or seven years to write – it’ll probably take six or seven years to fully understand.
At the cost of a cinema ticket, you’ll get an astounding visual experience… as
well as a long, cryptic headache.
Tenet is released in UK cinemas on Wednesday 26 August
26 Aug 20 – 26 Aug 21, TIMES VARY
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
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