Tenet ★★★½

For better or for worse, Tenet is everything we had hoped it would be and more. Much like Guy Richie’s recent return to the world of low stakes London gang narratives, it was great to see Christopher Nolan returning to the oeuvre that first put him on the map. The problem is that it’s very easy to misunderstand quite why we liked these bodies of work so much in the first place.

Nowadays, we often hear phrases like “style over substance” being used in connection with film almost universally as pejorative terminology. When discussing this criticism, Michael Mann is often offered up as an example. Mann is cited by Christopher Nolan as a source of inspiration for his own works, and whilst I believe Mann is often the master of seamlessly blending stylish direction with uncompromising, character led narrative (typified in Heat and excellently recreated by Nolan in Inception and the Dark knight movies), it’s also easy to see some of his flaws on projects like Ali and Miami Vice. This flawed version of Michael Mann seems to have been drawn on by Nolan during the creation of Tenet; instead of letting the characters drive the plot, Tenet becomes tangled in technicalities and expositive contrivances that stifle the emotional core. It’s hard to understand why our unnamed protagonist often ditches his stoic assassin personality in favour of saving Elizabeth Debicki‘s character, even in spite of the threat of the coming apocalypse looming on the horizon.

Whilst Tenet is lacking the kind of emotional centre that Nolan presented to us in Inception or the Prestige, it certainly isn’t the awful movie that other critics frame it as. The 70mm cinematography, coupled with Nolan’s love for excessive practical effects and unpredictable storytelling make it worth the watch alone.

My favourite thing about Tenet was it’s reluctance to feed the audience the answers that we all came to see; Nolan kept his cards close to his chest until the very end whilst simultaneously parading a series of obvious “in hindsight” type clues in front of us. The film held its nerve and is all the better for it.