Thanks to their considerable commercial success and a heavily-invested online fanbase, the release of a Christopher Nolan picture always comes with high expectations. The ante has been upped considerably here, this being the first big event picture since the before times, as well as the one banked on by studios to get the public back in cinemas and wallow in the big screen experience. Alas, this convoluted muddle of a sci-fi thriller is probably his weakest to date. The opening sequence is the strongest, as terrorists swoop into a crowded Kiev Opera House. Washington is the protagonist (he’s literally billed as that) a CIA operative who is saved by a mysterious masked figure during the frantic shootout. Shortly after, he is inducted into a secret organisation. Actual details of his intended mission are sketchy, but he’s told that the palindromic word ‘Tenet’ will steer him on his way.
After a briefing and demo with one of the organisation’s boffins (Poésy), he jets to India in search of the metal used in an entropy-reversing bullet. There he is received by fellow agent Neil (an amusingly louche Pattinson). Together they infiltrate the heavily fortified home of a billionaire, a possible lead, utilising a bungee-type device. The trail then points to Russian arms dealer Sator. Using Sator’s unhappily married wife Kat (Debekci), the protagonist (that’s his name remember) is able to arrange a meeting with Sator (a comically broad Branagh with vowel-strangulating accent). Cue more trips to far-flung environs and some time-warping high jinks, in between lengthy scenes of portentous exposition-laden dialogue.
Despite some impressive action sequences, and impressively panoramic photography from Hoyte van Hoytema, this a pretty dour two and a half hours, the washed out blue and grey colour scheme and absence of levity adding to the drabness. There’s a disconnect too between the self-consciously cerebral script (whether the high concept stands up or not would require another, if not multiple viewings – but for now we’re saying it probably doesn’t) and the globe-trotting James Bond flash - there’s an almost quaint belief with the latter that showing us a travelogue-style gallery of exotic places and people wearing dead expensive clothes speaks to an almost unimaginable glamour, as opposed to resembling a naff Bacardi ad from the 80s. Washington is a rather dull, ahem, protagonist, lacking the charisma and authority of his old man. Pattinson at least has some fun as Neil, but is reined in a little too much, whereas Branagh’s scenery-chewing turn isn’t reined in nearly enough.
Tenet is out in cinemas 26th August.
David Willoughby @DWill_Crackfilm