ThinkMovies: TENET

ThinkMovies: TENET

by Alan Grant
article from Thursday 3, September, 2020

FRIENDS, I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to writing this column. I like to think I made a decent stab at getting the point across in my Why I Miss the Movies piece from May but I’m not sure I really made it clear enough. Not being able to go to the cinema, and then sit down to write these regular reviews, has been awful and I’m glad that at least that part of this terrible set of circumstances is over for now.  

When I walked into the cool, shiny, dark lobby of my local multiplex, with a ticket safely ensconced in my phone’s wallet app, I genuinely felt something. I could spend another 1000 words on that feeling but that’s not why we’re here. Suffice it to say, I’m delighted to be back. 

As much as the point of writing these is to give you an opinion on whichever picture it is that we’re talking about, I also like to think ThinkMovies gives you a little insight into what’s going on in my head. This has never been truer than in this particular edition.  

When I was walking through the lobby, I had a narrative in mind for how it was going to go. The first movie back is supposed to be amazing, right? That’s the story. It’s supposed to be the triumphal return of the movies to my life and it’s meant to serve as a reminder of everything I’ve missed and what is now back in my life. 

It’s not supposed to be bad, and TENET isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also not supposed to be just ok. Fine. Passable. Acceptable. Grand for an evening but nothing to write home about.  

Is it?  

Well, sadly that’s what TENET is… it’s fine. Just fine. 

TENET is, at its core, a spy movie. We follow a CIA agent known as The Protagonist (John David Washington) as he does battle against the corrupt Russian oligarch (as if Russian oligarchs come in any other flavour) Sator (Kenneth Branagh) and tries to stop him getting hold of an apocalyptic plot MacGuffin. Along the way, he gets tangled up with Sator’s wife Kat, played by Elizabeth Debicki, and the race is on to save himself, her, and the world. 

What makes Christopher Nolan’s spy flick a bit different is its central gimmick, because he’s a director who sticks to what he knows, and this time the gimmick is… time. Via some floury exposition, we learn that scientists have developed a way to reverse time for military use and have to just accept it. 

There’s a lot to like about TENET, don’t let my initial trepidation put you off. It’s professionally directed, the cast works well together (Branagh and Washington are especially good), and the pacing, plot, writing, and production values are all very good.  

Of particular note is the music, it’s one of the best scored movies I’ve seen in a while and each scene and connecting sequence sounds exactly as it should. Music often gets forgotten as a vital part of filmmaking and that’s unfair and it would be especially unfair to ignore the excellent job Ludwig Göransson does with the soundtrack of TENET.  

There, however, are two areas in which TENET just misses the mark for yours truly.  

It’s too long, far too long in fact, and at 2 hours 31 minutes it’s a good idea to go to the bathroom beforehand and leave anyone with a short attention span at home. Some scenes feel drawn out, others unnecessary, and there’s just generally a lot of filler with characters exchanging long looks and pauses that just break the immersion for which Nolan is usually a dependable supplier. 

Also, the film just tries to do too much. When it shines, it does so when it’s being a clever spy flick and using all the tropes that come with it – there’s even a great little scene, very much the movie’s zenith, with a famous British actor playing an intelligence officer that I shan’t spoil here because it comes out of nowhere and needs to do so to be satisfying. The gadgety, American Bond, sharp suits and sharper cocktails stuff is all there but, especially towards the end, it becomes shrouded in military guff and guys with guns macho bullshit patter that rather ruins the sleek ‘Bond if his car was a DeLorean’ thing the movie works so hard to build up in its opening act.  

Overall, it’s worth seeing but only if you’re part of a cinema all-you-can-watch scheme or have someone you really want to go to the movies with; otherwise, it can fill an evening but doesn’t do much more than that. 

So there it is, but, if you’ll indulge me again… just this once more, I promise. This week wasn’t really about going to see a great film, or even an average or terrible, one; for me, it’s about being back in front of the screen and behind the keyboard for a movie review. I’m back and I’m delighted to be so and therefore TENET was worth going to see for me, personally, just for that reason. 

I’d like to close by saying that I hope you’re doing ok and are starting to feel more like normal. It’s been tough for all of us. And, since you’re here, I’m going to assume you’re a movie nerd, it’s great to know there’s more cinema we can enjoy and talk about together. Now turn off that fucking mobile and those crunchy snacks outside… they’re just for display purpose, leave them be! 

Good! So now that we’re back, let’s all get ready to ThinkMovies once again.   

Alan Grant, our resident ThinkMovies critic, can be found here with a new review every Thursday evening. 

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