At the Movies Blog

John David Washington is in a lot of boats in this movie.

I had the toughest choice over where to see this movie. This is a problem I like to have, after we have been stuck watching movies in our homes for months and months. Tenet is playing in 70 mm at the Grossmont Reading. Nothing like the high-resolution of 70 mm. I loved seeing The Hateful Eight in 70 mm (even though Tarantino then has the cast all holed up in a saloon, which made no sense). I saw The Irishman at the Grossmont Reading in 70 mm (I wish that was a better film, too). I opted to go to my favorite theatre in town — the Angelika Film Center, and recline in the seats for this 2 ½ hour experience. I figured it’s best to be more comfortable while wearing a mask (side note: they told us we didn’t have to wear a mask if we were eating! Ha! As if I needed an excuse to buy popcorn). 

I thought the title of Tenet was silly, even when a character on a ship that rescued the protagonist, tells him to use the word to open doors in the right circles. Yet halfway through the movie, thinking about how “tenet” is a palindrome, and certain characters in this movie are kind of moving in a human palindrome (that explanation of what happens is about as good as any you’ll get)…the title was a bit more acceptable.

I hated the title of The Burnt Orange Heresy, yet it’s my favorite movie of the year. The gorgeous Elizabeth Debicki is in both films, and her chemistry with John David Washington is great. About 45 minutes in, I was thinking perhaps Washington should play the next James Bond. This movie felt like a Bond flick, with a touch of Minority Report and Memento (and not nearly as good as either of those two films). Despite the chemistry of those two, or the chemistry of Washington and Robert Pattinson (he’s Batman, ya know) — the film has underdeveloped characters that keep you emotionally detached from it all. Halfway through, when things got confusing, I just told myself to sit back and enjoy the ride. And if you have that mindset, it works well. The stunts are amazing. There’s a bombastic bass score that’s loud, but effective. The locales are gorgeous, as is the cast. And that includes Dimple Kapadia, the 63-year-old Indian actress who has a rather intriguing part. 

This movie has generated the biggest buzz of 2020 and once theatres shut down, film lovers wondered what would happen. After seeing it, you realize why they didn’t want to release it for home viewing. You really need to see this in theatres. My wife suggested we go back and see it in 70 mm at the Grossmont Reading but…I don’t think that will shed any more light on what was actually happening. 

Washington is a military soldier/spy pursuing a Russian arms dealer named Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh, who chews the hell out of his scenes). He’s abusive to his wife Kat (Debicki). Washington meets up with Robert Pattinson’s character, and we see them use bungee cords to penetrate the house of an Indian weapons dealer (Kapadia). 

Once the protagonist (Washington, who is literally, called the protagonist) sees how bullets can go backwards into guns, we are more intrigued. This is one of the few movies where the expositional dialogue is needed (although a few times it’s hard to hear and understand). 

And although the story needed to be better, and Nolan needs to stop throwing these Inception/Memento backwards twists, it’s just such a great movie-going experience to behold.

That’s helped by the great set design, too. Not to mention watching the Protagonist trying to walk forward, when he’s been inverted back in time and everything is going in the opposite direction. Seeing him step into a puddle of water that goes from splashing to forming the puddle again, and his belabored steps…is a blast. Even the dizzying sounds of the Doppler effect as he’s driving the wrong way on the freeway — exciting stuff. 

One trope that bothered me in this is how obsessed the Protagonist was with saving the girl. In Bond movies, it’s admirable. Bond feels he can do this, while avoiding the bullets of the bad guy. And Bond does sleep with her, so he has that old-school obligation of not just being a cad. In this, there’s a scene involving jumping into moving cars that…while thrilling as hell to watch, you wonder why he’d risk his life, and saving the world (literally), to save a woman from an abusive madman. And they’re not even sleeping together!

The rest of the cast is terrific, although not given a lot to do. It was nice to see Himesh Patel, who was so wonderful in Yesterday last year. What he does with an airplane crashing into an illegal art gallery, is incredible. Aaron Taylor-Johnson pops up, as does Clemence Poesy, Fiona Dourif, and an incredible scene with a snobby lecture from Michael Caine. Nothing funnier him telling Washington to get a better suit, as the Brooks Brothers look just won’t fly.

Overall, the movie is just too complex for its own good. More time should have been devoted to the screenplay, and less to the stunts (although watching Washington on a fire truck, trying to steal something out of another vehicle, is a lot of fun). It’s just strange to think that Nolan made Momento on probably a shoestring budget, and it’s a much better movie. Yet this is worth seeing at the theatres. It made me think of when I was a 10-year-old kid and I went to see the Michael Crichton sci-fi film Looker (Albert Finney, James Coburn, Susan Dey). The sci-fi elements were so interesting, even if you can’t really scrutinize the science behind it all. It always works so much better if you’re dealing with a time travel device if you keep it simple. Just make it a DeLorean that needs to be struck by lightning.

3 stars out of 5.

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