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Tenet: A Puzzle Worth Attempting (Spoiler-Free Edition)

At a time when most high-profile movies belong to a household-name franchise, it is always exciting to see the industry venture into unfamiliar waters with an original story. One of the supreme modern-day directors in this regard is Christopher Nolan. Ever since he broke onto the filmmaking scene with Memento, Nolan has become synonymous with nonlinear storytelling that challenges audiences as much as they entertain. While his ambitious nature sometimes leads Nolan to bite off more than he can chew (Interstellar and Inception), the final product undeniably represents the big screen experience at its finest. The creative detail put into these stories along with their gorgeous visuals help overcome plots that don’t always hold up to intense analysis. Tenet continues this trend, serving as possibly the most Nolan-esque film seen thus far. It relentlessly challenges audiences to keep up, and in doing so, takes them on a visually stunning and action-packed ride that demands subsequent viewings.

The story follows a spy (John David Washington) on his journey through the world of international espionage as he attempts to thwart the start of a World War III. During this mission he crosses paths with allies (Robert Pattinson) as well as enemies (Kenneth Branagh). To delve any deeper into plot details would be to ruin the initial viewing experience and I have no intention of doing that here.

The trademark of any great Nolan movie (excluding the Dark Knight Trilogy, as that’s not original material) is the creative premise, and boy howdy does Tenet provide that. In the past Nolan has utilized short term memory loss, dreams, and wormholes as intriguing storytelling devices. This time around he has decided to tackle the notion of inverting time. This globetrotting spy thriller showcases splendid cinematography and slick action sequences that alone would result in a sufficiently fun time, but when infused with an added layer of nonlinear storytelling, the enjoyment value is heightened even further. The ambition of this premise culminates with scenes of sheer amazement, as well as some of pure confusion. It is a story that will be difficult to fully grasp upon an initial viewing, but will nonetheless be enjoyed for its pure spectacle, even if the viewer isn’t able to follow every detail. While the cinematography, visual effects, and screenplay are all overwhelming strengths of the film, the sound mixing does serve as a glaring weakness. The sound is booming and at times renders dialogue between characters inaudible. This can distract from what is happening onscreen, but overall, it forces the viewer to focus even harder, perhaps all part of Nolan’s masterplan.

In regards to acting, the ensemble cast delivers some solid performances, though none are particularly spectacular. Kenneth Branagh is the best of the bunch, embodying a memorably menacing antagonist. He successfully fleshes out his character with unique ticks and isn’t afraid to chew up the scenery. The next best role belongs to Robert Pattinson, who provides a strong portrayal of a supporting team member. Pattinson simply functions as a charismatic ancillary piece, yet puts forth ample effort and elevates every scene he is involved in. John David Washington works as the suave leading man, but doesn’t necessarily add to the film, instead merely holding his own with everything going on around him. The rest of the cast more or less operate as shiny pieces on Nolan’s chessboard, acting as the story requires in this big budget production.

With Tenet, Christopher Nolan has set his sights on delivering the next cinematic masterpiece which he falls short of, but the consolation is still an incredibly creative spy thriller. Awe-inspiring set pieces, impressive attention to detail, and cool characters more than make up for poor sound mixing to create a thrill ride that will simultaneously make your brain hurt and desire an immediate rewatch. It is an example of the rare film that will satiate a viewer’s craving for visual spectacle as well as challenging storytelling. I give Tenet 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the spy genre, or Christopher Nolan.

-Matt Chouinard


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