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Review: With ‘Tenet,’ Christopher Nolan Delivers a Blockbuster for the Summer Box Office Season That Never Was

August 26, 2020Ben MK

A palindrome is by definition a word that reads the same both backwards and forwards. But while tenet, the word, conforms to this definition, Tenet, the latest from writer-director Christopher Nolan, is anything but — even though its protagonist, in some ways, ends up right back where he started by the film's conclusion.

We first meet Tenet's protagonist (John David Washington) as he, a fellow CIA agent and some heavily armed Ukrainian police officers are trying to stop a terrorist attack involving a covert operative and a highly sought-after piece of technology — something we later learn is part of a device capable of bringing about World War III. But when our protagonist is taken captive he must make a crucial choice, later waking up aboard a ship to find he's been recruited to help locate a Russian arms dealer who's been selling weapons of a unique nature.

That arms dealer is Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) and the nature of the weapons in question is the movie's central gimmick. Bullets that fly backwards and bombs that explode inwards — these are some of the "inverted" munitions our protagonist has been tasked with tracking down. And to do so, he'll have to team up with a British spy named Neil (Robert Pattinson) and Andrei's wife, an art dealer named Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), who may be the only person capable of getting them close enough to her husband to allow them to put a stopper in his plans.

Of course, to say anything more about Tenet's puzzle of a plot would be to sell short some of its best surprises. Suffice to say, this may well be Nolan's most ambitious work yet, combining the mind-bending complexity of Inception with the temporal thrills of Memento and the visceral action of Dunkirk to create something wholly unique — a film that is as much about saving the past as it is about fighting the future.

Indeed, there are a lot of ideas to unpack and a plethora of details to absorb — and much more to be deciphered after the screen has faded to black. Just don't forget we're still in the midst of a pandemic, so not only should you leave your brain on the entire time you're in the theatre, you'll have to leave your face mask on as well.

Tenet releases August 26th, 2020 from Warner Bros. Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 30 min.

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