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Review: ‘Tenet’ is a time-bending thriller that keeps you in the loop (Includes first-hand account)

After approximately six months of not going to movie theatres, it’s not surprising studios are trying to lure audiences back with high-profile films that had pre-established hype. Big pictures with big names are definitely an advantage in this re-emerging market as the many delayed release dates are finally coming due. In 2000, writer/director Christopher Nolan had a breakthrough indie success, becoming a filmmaker to watch — and boy did we! Twenty years later, the mere mention of his name piques interest and conjures expectations of grand complexity. His latest film, Tenet, is a time-bending, action adventure that will keep viewers on their toes.

When The Protagonist’s (John David Washington) mission goes terribly awry, he wakes up in the hospital to an offer of a new life. There’s a secret organization trying to prevent an apocalyptic event by stopping a global arms dealer named Ivan Sator (Kenneth Branagh). With the help of Niall (Robert Pattinson), a fellow operative, he makes contact with who he believes holds the key to getting closer to Sator — his wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). But she’s just one of her husband’s many victims and is as much a liability as an asset. As The Protagonist goes deeper undercover, he discovers the truth is stranger than he could have ever imagined.

Nolan fans know he enjoys working in alternate realities and in this picture he is manipulating time. Without going into too much detail, the past, present and future overlap in a number of scenes, which creates some interesting paradoxes. This anomaly is the basis of the narrative and creates opportunities for some exceptional action sequences. Of course, a Nolan shootout, car chase or fight is always more intricate and complicated than a typical action scene as it also intertwines the movie’s theme, in this case non-linear time. Reverse driving, exploding planes and empty but deadly guns are just some of the highlights.

Once audiences are let in on the secret, another layer of fun is added as they can then look for clues that reveal there’s more to the scene than what’s currently happening. Nolan typically sprinkles hints throughout his films that fall into this genre, so multiple viewings always have the potential to reveal something not seen before. Though, perhaps it’s the time theme, but many of the signs are more noticeable on the first viewing this time around and parts of the story are far more predictable than usual. It doesn’t necessarily detract from the film’s enjoyment, but may be a touch disappointing for those looking for something entirely unexpected again from the filmmaker.

Fortunately, the cast is excellent. Washington’s secret agent character is steadfast but not always the good guy, which makes for some interesting relationships. Being quick on his feet and an expert strategist gets him where he needs, but he admittedly lacks the suaveness of a Bond. Pattinson is the adept, likeable sidekick. Niall supports The Protagonist’s missions, providing information, gear and help. One of their fearless recruits is played by Himesh Patel, who actually infuses the picture with some humour as well. Branagh is a chilling villain whose every move is calculated to the point that he takes pride in never having an elevated heartrate. Debicki’s Kat is trapped but she’s not weak, which is a welcome trait that strays away from the stereotype of the abused wife. Michael Caine and Dimple Kapadia also make brief appearances as important and somewhat cheeky contacts for The Protagonist.

Nolan never fails to deliver on the big screen experience and, in spite of some atypical predictability, this is a thrilling watch from beginning to end.

Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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