THRILLER; 2hr 30min
STARRING: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh
Red alert! Washington (left) and Pattinson
In general terms, a tenet is a belief. In Mondo Nolan, as in Christopher, the writer-director of this mammoth head-scratcher, Tenet is the name of a top-secret organisation for which a spy known only as the Protagonist (Washington, son of Denzel, fun fact) is working to save the planet from World War III. The Protagonist uses no other name and has no discernible personality. He does, however, have supersonic reflexes, a hide of iron and the unflappable sangfroid required of any self-respecting super-snooper. Furthermore, this being a C. Nolan construct, he and his dapper right hand, Neil (Pattinson, always a joy), must deal with inverted time, in which individuals and objects great and small — bullets and cars leap to mind — can move in flat-chat reverse.
Even after two-and-a-half hours of staring blankly at it, I still have no idea how the logistics of “technology that can invert an object’s entropy” actually work. What I can tell you is that in tandem with his mind-bending agenda, Nolan (Inception, Dunkirk) is a big-picture person in a cinema climate at this point sorely deprived of them. Shot in seven countries, slicked with the gloss of megadollars, Tenet looks impossibly fabulous and barrels along as if its life depended on it — which, of course, it does. Nolan the showman is in his element, rolling out stunts, trappings and confrontations with his IMAX cameras and his cineaste’s love of deluxe-issue scope. And while the actors are largely on board to serve the bewildering action, a spicily accented Branagh as the obligatory villain and Debicki as his depressed wife have quite possibly one of the worst marriages known to man, which makes even the backwards-speeding bullets look like light relief. What it all amounts to is anybody’s guess, but by the thunderous home stretch I was too dazed to give a damn.