For the first time in nearly seven months, here is a first-run movie review!
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, TENET follows a CIA agent known only as The Protagonist (John David Washington) who is recruited by the titular secret organization to prevent a precognitive Russian oligarch from sparking World War III. He must do so using the process of “time inversion,” traveling both forwards and backwards through time in order to prevent the oncoming catastrophe.
Nolan conceived the ideas behind the film over the course of two decades, although the version that would become TENET took him six to seven years to flesh out. He also abstained from watching existing spy films (stating that “no one’s ever been able…to do their own version of James Bond”—and let’s be honest, he isn’t wrong), working instead from his own memories of the genre while also being inspired by films in other genres, such as the 1968 Spaghetti Western ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. The result is a refreshing new take on the spy genre which is quintessentially Nolan in every facet imaginable. Certainly no one else could have written a screenplay such as this, much less attempted to direct it! As with many Nolan films, some people will need to take more than one viewing to fully understand and grasp it in its entirety, but I can tell you as someone who’s been able to understand previous works of his on my first viewing, this one isn’t as tough to follow as INCEPTION.
TENET excels in its technical achievements as much as its intricate story, utilizing large film stocks such as 70 mm and IMAX as well as completely practical effects, including the use of a full-size Boeing 747 jet which was actually cheaper to utilize for its sequence than miniatures and visual effects. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is stunning and pairs well with editor Jennifer Lame’s well-paced cuts. Unlike most Nolan films, TENET does not include a Hans Zimmer score due to that composer preferring to score the new adaptation of DUNE, but Zimmer recommended his friend Ludwig Göransson (BLACK PANTHER), who contributes a particularly atmospheric and tense soundtrack to the proceedings.
As you are no doubt aware by now, Warner Bros. originally scheduled this film for a July 17, 2020 release, but pushed back the date three times to September 3 for obvious reasons. TENET is unquestionably the welcome back movie theaters—and moviegoers—have desperately wanted and needed.