[Screen It]


(2020) (John David Washington, Kenneth Branagh) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi/Action: An operative tries to save the world while contending with objects and people that can move and operate in reverse.

The Protagonist (JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON) is an operative who, after proving his worth and allegiance to the cause, is tasked with an even bigger mission. And that's to save the world from an existential threat stemming from forces in the future who are sending back objects and people to the present where they function in reverse, something that could ultimately lead to the end of everything.

Teamed with fellow agent Neil (ROBERT PATTINSON), The Protagonist meets arms dealer Priya (DIMPLE KAPADIA), but his ultimate goal is to find an even more notorious arms dealer, Andrei Sator (KENNETH BRANAGH), who's somehow involved with the backward moving elements.

Complicating matters is Sator's wife, Kat (ELIZABETH DEBICKI), who wants out of their marriage but is being held hostage by the fact that if she leaves she'll never see their young son again. Feeling responsible for her, The Protagonist must not only try to keep her safe, but also figure out exactly what's going on and how to stop it before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

As everyone knows, most movies feature plots featuring heroes and villains, with pressure on the former to save the day, whatever that might mean in any given story parameter. Usually such "save the day" motives are figurative rather than literal, but sometimes the day and ensuing future do indeed lie fully in the balance of the protagonist winning.

In the real world, sometimes the future of filmmakers, actors, and even studios themselves are at stake, what with their futures tied directly to the financial success of one film. And the bigger the movie, both in terms of public awareness but especially the budget, the greater the pressure to achieve success.

That's a lot of tension both behind and in front of the camera so it's a surprise that anyone feels any sort of fun when the stakes are so high. But that's the beauty of the filmgoing experience where audiences are there for the ride, so to speak, and often aren't even aware of the immense pressure of the need, not for speed Tom Cruise, but rather the need to succeed.

Yet what if the very existence of watching films in movie theaters also hung in the balance? That's what's facing exhibitors, director Christopher Nolan, Warner Brothers, and the overall safety of moviegoers with the release of "Tenet."

In certain films, sometimes you'll hear characters say something like "you're our only hope." In today's pandemic world, that's exactly what theaters and those who run and work in them are saying or at least thinking, hoping, and maybe even praying about this release that was already highly anticipated -- being a Nolan film, what with the director having previously delivered the likes of "Dunkirk," "Interstellar" and the "Dark Knight" trilogy -- back before the world went sideways due to Covid-19.

Without delving too much further into the logistics, health concerns, and yes, especially now, politics of whether movie theaters should be reopening in the middle of an ongoing pandemic and luring viewers back in while thousands of people are dying every day from the malady, from this point forward in this review we're going to focus on the artistic merits of this offering.

Like most of Nolan's films, this one's big, loud, muscular, and teaming with abundant testosterone, which actually works to its advantage as it's essentially a James Bond flick as filtered through science fiction. In particular, that would be time travel, both in the traditional sense but also the fact that both objects and people actually operate in reverse at times.

If you're scratching your head at the thought of that, it won't be the only time as this two-and-a-half hour film unfolds and proceeds to wrap back around on itself multiple times. Yes, it's one of those offerings that likely requires multiple viewings to get a complete grasp on what's what, but it's nonetheless an exciting and engaging ride even with just one viewing.

Without going into specifics and spoilers -- although Nolan (who works from his own screenplay) has purposefully left many things unanswered and once again presents a badly mixed audio track where dialogue is often hard to understand due to being drowned out by the pounding score and/or loud sound effects -- here's the gist of the story.

John David Washington plays a never-named operative of some kind (he's listed as "The Protagonist" in the credits) who, following the flick's big opening action scene, is tasked by a never-identified agent who works for a never-identified agency to literally save the world.

After meeting a British intelligence officer (Michael Caine who's only around for this one scene) and a tech expert who demonstrates the backward moving objects, our hero meets another operative (Robert Pattinson) and they do a very Bond-esque maneuver to interrogate an arms dealer, only to learn the true power player is that man's wife (Dimple Kapadia).

That eventually leads to an even more power arms dealer (Kenneth Branagh) who, when not extorting his wife (Elizabeth Debicki) to stay in their marriage or else lose all future contact with their young son, is using the backward-moving tech for nefarious means while contemplating ending the world.

While interesting and at times quite exciting in a definite Bond meets The Time Machine sort of way, the overall concept isn't quite as cool as the multiple dream layer plot of "Inception," and Nolan obviously cut his teeth with the backward time stuff way back when with "Memento." But such temporal trickery in that flick feels quaint and subdued once elements in this story fold back on themselves and you feel like you might need a flowchart to keep track of the various whens, wheres, and whats.

Performances are good from the leads even if most of the characters aren't remotely fleshed out and tech credits, not surprisingly, are excellent across the board except for, as mentioned before, the audio mix.

Despite that, and much like the time travel involved and the palindromic nature of the title, I look forward to going back and watching this again. Whether it ultimately saves the theatrical moviegoing experience remains to be seen. Sans all of that pressure and after just one viewing where things are still a bit muddled in my head about what I actually saw, "Tenet" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 26,2020 / Posted September 4, 2020

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