Christopher Nolan’s hotly anticipated “Tenet” is a challenging, exhilarating romp through espionage and time. All the way through, you can see evidence of its DNA from Nolan’s “Interstellar,” “Inception” and “Memento.”
It’s action-packed, but it’s not a popcorn actioner. It demands your attention in every scene.
First, there’s that title. “Tenet” is the same forward and backward – a palindrome that reflects the theme of time reversal — and it means a principle or belief, particularly at the core of a philosophy or religion.
John David Washington (“BlacKkKlansman”) is the star, known only as The Protagonist, which of course he is.
We meet him at the beginning as a CIA agent who has infiltrated a symphonic performance where terror erupts.
He becomes part of an elaborate assignment. A scientist (Clémence Poésy) explains some “inverted” objects throughout the world move backward through time, because they were created in the future, where an apocalyptic war looms.
With help from an assistant (Robert Pattinson, who looks and acts for all the world like Robert Vaughn’s spy in the television series “The Man from U.N.C.L.E”), The Protagonist must break into the apartment of an arms dealer in Mumbai, then head to a meeting with a character played, of course, by Michael Caine.
The Protagonist also must come to the rescue of an unhappily married woman (Elizabeth Debicki, “Widows”), who is the wife of a powerful, cruel Russian (Kenneth Branagh). This all involves a forged Goya artwork and a jet crash in Oslo.
If you think all that is dizzying, just wait until you see the car chases and the gunfire — sometimes, vehicles and people in these scenes are traveling in different directions through time.
This isn’t for audiences who want mindless action or time-filler (see what I did there?) until the next Bond flick. It’s for Nolan fans and viewers who still want to discuss what happens at the end of “Inception.”
It’s well worth your time — forward and backward.
4 out of 4 stars
Rated: PG-13 for foul language and violence.
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes.
Linda Cook is a film critic and reporter, first at the Quad-City Times from 1985-2020 and now Local 4 News WHBF and OurQuadCities.com. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists and St. Mark Lutheran Church. You can find a summary of and links to her past movie reviews here and at Rotten Tomatoes.