Watch It Now: Tenet

Watch It Now: Tenet


After three postponements, Christopher Nolan’s latest reality-distorting thriller is finally here. Some mind-boggling set pieces mean Tenet has been worth the wait – and that it needs to be seen on a big screen.

What’s the story?
Memento, The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Inception, Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan has made an indecent amount of the 21st-century’s best, most interesting blockbusters. He was supposed to add to that list more than a month ago, but a certain global pandemic got in the way and Tenet’s release date was put back three times. It’s arrived now and it’s ready to bring audiences back to cinemas with a bang.

So what’s the story? Well, there are a couple of possible answers. On one level, that’s a question for career physicists. There’s some time-bending, mind-melting sci-fi going on here: someone in the future’s invented something that can ‘invert’ time, which means time is actually a two-way thing that can run forward and back. But, as an on-screen scientist tells John David Washington early on, ‘Don’t try to understand.’ There’s the briefest of pauses as Nolan allows that to sink in. We’re taking it to mean that you’re allowed to skip the sci-fi and still enjoy the film.

The easier answer is that there’s a CIA agent (Washington) who’s recruited into an even more secretive organisation and now needs to save the world. Beyond that, you need to see the film. Everything weird that starts happening to Washington is as new to him as it is to the audience. You learn (or not) as he learns.

This isn’t the first time Christopher Nolan has played with time. With the likes of Memento and Dunkirk, the British director has made a habit of non-linear narratives. With this one, sit back and trust him – because, ultimately, whether the clock’s counting up or down, the thrill is the same. And that’s the real reason for seeing Tenet. This is a pounding, maximalist thriller whose spectacular, ingenious set pieces are best enjoyed on the biggest screen with the best soundsystem. Find an IMAX if you can.

Who are the stars?
John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) is not just the protagonist of Tenet. He is The Protagonist.  Washington’s main ally is Neil (Robert Pattinson), a floppy-haired British operative who deals well with mind-blowing revelations about spatio-temporal reality. Some of Nolan’s regulars are along for the ride too. Michael Caine (the Dark Knight trilogy) drops in briefly, while Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk) is Andrei Sator, a Russian arms dealer with a burgeoning god complex. Sator’s wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki, recently announced as Princess Diana in The Crown) is aggrieved enough to want to help The Protagonist. It’s a relatively trim cast for a big-budget movie, but they all do sterling work inhabiting an alternative world full of head-spinning possibility.

Who’s it for?
If you’ve been missing the cinema, this is the one that’s worth donning a mask for. Nolan’s films often come with messages (Dunkirk showcased the quieter side of war heroism, his Batman movies are about the value of symbols) but Tenet feels like he just wanted to have some fun with a spy thriller. The result is a wild ride. Before James Bond parachutes in to help save cinemas in November, someone should let him know that Nolan has just raised the bar.

Watch the trailer here.

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