Nolan goes nonlinear as usual, but this time it doesn’t quite work.
CIA agent The Protagonist (John David Washington) is captured by mercenaries after participating in an operation at an opera house. He consumes cyanide to avoid interrogation, only for it to be revealed as a test. His team was killed and an artifact was stolen from the opera house by another organization. The Protagonist is recruited into the organization called TENET which deals with people and objects whose entropy has been inverted, allowing them to move backwards through time. The Protagonist, along with agent Neil (Robert Pattinson), starts to track all of the inverted objects forward and backward in time with the help of Kat Barton (Elizabeth Debicki), wife of Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). It turns out that all of reality might be at stake. Or not, I honestly might have gotten lost.
Christopher Nolan loves challenging the structure of narrative storytelling. Memento famously is told backwards, Interstellar involves representing four dimensions as three, Inception involves layers of timelines, and The Prestige shows three steps of a magic trick simultaneously as plot. However, this movie clearly was intended to be his opus, because it involves the interaction between characters moving in completely different directions in time. This concept is, at times, visually amazing and can lead to really creative ways to play with character development. If it was pulled off right, this film could have been absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately, it turns out that the logistics of trying to have characters moving in opposite directions in time makes it really really vulnerable to logical conflicts. If they just said “superscience magic,” that would have been easier to handle, but they tried to justify it just enough to make the flaws more obvious.
That’s not to say that the movie isn’t still pretty solid. The performances by Washington and Pattinson are both excellent, particularly since they have to convey a very complicated relationship that is expanded well throughout the film. The action sequences all look pretty cool, particularly since so many of them involve characters moving in two different directions in time. They first show it as a bullet being sucked back into a gun, but it gets more interesting when watching explosions, crashes, and other attacks reversing. Granted, the “reverse entropy” thing does make some of the effects very odd and, again, not quite logically sound, but they still look cool. This was definitely a film to see on the big screen, but it wasn’t the year to see it.
It doesn’t help that there aren’t a lot of strong character moments to make you care about what happens to the leads. They try to have a few, but they don’t end up quite being enough, something that is pretty common in Nolan’s more recent films. Not that you need to have that to make a movie watchable, but it does help heighten tension and engagement.
Overall, it’s not a bad film. It just doesn’t quite engage you enough to make it a character study and the concept isn’t played out as well as it should.
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