The world, as far I can see it, is threatened with extinction. It’s up to Christopher Nolan’s heroes to save it. The endeavour to avert global catastrophe is pretty close to catastrophic in this long-awaited Christopher Nolan mind-bender. Trying to decode the cryptic messages in the plot and to understand the mind of the characters who infest Nolan’s counter-infinitesimal universe is to bend your intelligence beyond any mend.
I saw Tenet twice to get a hang of the plot. A complete over-view is yet to emerge. I want to ask the very competent actors in Nolan’s film: did they fully comprehend the plot? Or did they decide to go with Nolan’s conviction. Most likely, the latter. And why not? When it’s Nolan you’ve got to go with his convictions. God is seldom wrong. Right?
So, here we go. Tenet opens with a very impressive shootout inside a concert hall. The terror attack is staged with the bridled opulence of an opera. Here’s where we meet the CIA operative played with a surprising stoicism by John David Washington, known “simply” (can anything in Nolan’s creation be simple?) as ‘The Protagonist’ who is taken hostage by the Russians.
This pulsating preamble sets the eclectic, mood-driven compulsively cryptic mood of this elaborate but finally unfinished espionage drama where cities and characters travel from one time zone to another without warning. The plot slips and out of what can only be described as karma-on-speed. Though the change in locations and the transformation of moral exigencies are swift and unannounced, the pace of narration feels like a slog. Maybe the sluggishness of pace is just an illusion, just like the time swerves that the characters take so that they can undo the damage in the present by going back in the past. Some such remedial exercise is highly recommended for this film as well.
Dare one suggest that the film needed better, more coherent editing, so that the characters’ motivations would have appeared less inaccessible to us? George David Washington’s nameless hero doesn’t attempt to harness the mindboggling hijinks. He instead goes, and never grows, with the furious flow. We needed Washington on our side. But he is on his own trip.
Robert Pattinson who never ceases to surprise, is a jumble of indecipherable, almost chaotic compulsions and driven round the bend by a kind of darkened plot structuring where Nolan uses minimum light for character assessment.
The plot is invigorated with an anti-claustrophobic vibrancy once the Russian super-villain Sator (played by Kanneth Branagh, in the best performance of the show) barges in with a bludgeoning force. I suspect Brannagh makes Sator far more interesting than he is meant to be. As for our own Dimple Kapadia, how seriously would you take an arms dealer named Priya? She drops in for three fleeting appearances looking like a Parsi dowager who has stepped out in the sun to dry her hair. Why do such brilliant Indian actors settle for so little in international projects?
The only female character in Tenet who makes her presence felt is Sator’s wife Kat, played by the interesting Elizabeth Debicki. Kat takes a lot of cruelty from her husband for their son’s sake. It’s easy for the audience to identify with Debicki’s suffering character. We feel just as helpless when Christopher Nolan makes his commanding presence felt in the movie kingdom. When Nolan says watch, we watch. End of discussion.