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‘Tenet’ bends the mind and will stick with you


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I remember a discussion about auteur theory in a class in film school. A student brought up Steven Spielberg, to which the professor responded “Spielberg doesn’t make personal films. He makes movies about dinosaurs and World War II.”

I wonder what said professor would have to say about Christopher Nolan, a filmmaker who makes huge blockbuster movies that are chock full of ideas he cares about. Nolan is perhaps the only director working today who studios will shovel money at to make whatever he wants to make.

What Nolan wants to do is make thought-provoking brain-twisters and couch them in the trappings is giant, epic blockbuster thrill rides. Which is exactly what his latest film, “Tenet” is.

“Tenet” finds The Protagonist (John David Washington), an agent in a nameless agency joining forces with the mysterious Neil (Robert Pattinson) and the beautiful Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) to stop vicious arms dealer, and Kat’s husband, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). There’s a lot more to the story, but I can’t say too much more without spoiling the whole thing.

This film is a showcase for Nolan’s skill as a filmmaker. He’s a master of pacing and building tension and suspense to the point of madness. His films have immense scope, gripping action and do all this without relying on a lot of popular filmmaking crutches like slow motions or shaky hand-held camera work. “Tenet” has all these elements in spades.

The performances in “Tenet” give Nolan a big assist in selling this story. The characters aren’t very multi-dimensional but the actors draw you in. Washington is especially effective. He ably brings us along on his journey as he discovers what’s going on. Branagh is subtly terrifying and it makes me hope he plays more roles like Sator in the future. Pattinson? Let’s just say after watching him kick booty in this movie, I have no worries about him playing Batman.

But for me, the best part of “Tenet” is the way it engaged my brain. It throws ideas at the audience, makes you think about concepts like temporal displacement and whether on not we can change the course humanity is on. Some of the ideas are presented in a way that doesn’t make sense, but you’ll still be thinking about them on the way home and even several days afterward. That’s never a bad thing.

As for flaws, there are enough that “Tenet” falls short of other Nolan masterworks like “Inception” or “Memento.” The film’s rules are never all that clear, so some parts of the plot are a little too convoluted and confusing. The writing leaves us with too much plot for even a two-and-a-half-hour film (maybe this should’ve been a Netflix series?) and characters with little depth. Also, I found the ending to be a bit of a head-scratcher.

All in all, “Tenet” comes off as a vanity project for Nolan that’s long of concept and short on multi-layered characters and a decipherable plot. But the concept is thought-provoking, the action is intense and the ideas “Tenet” bandies about are fascinating enough to stick in your brain long after the closing credits roll.

3 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on