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Time for Tenet

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Mark Lyndon, 70mm correspondent, London, UKDate: 03.09.2020
Picture by Tim Collins

I was uncertain whether I loved or hated Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster Tenet, now I’m not so sure. I attended a matineÚ screening of Tenet at a packed out London IMAX, last Saturday, Covid, Schmovid. We began with a trailer for the latest Bond movie, which confidently announced that the release will take place in April 2020. That set the tone for the evening.

The title Tenet is a palindrome, a word that meets itself coming back, rather like this film, in reverse. In the first of a series of set pieces, or Immersibles as Kubrick, Nolan’s hero, called them, Tenet opens with a terrorist attack on a concert hall, opera house? One of the SWAT team sent to deal with the mayhem gruffly interrogates another in Polish: “What are you doing here?” A traditional Polish term for action thrillers is “They killed him but he ran away”. We first meet our anti-hero/hero The Protagonist, being sent on a Mission Improbable - Halfway Back to the Future. Tenet is full of clever and obscure references and devices, too clever by half, for some. The last ten minutes feature action that goes forwards and backwards, or Tenet in a word.

Nolan pays full tribute to the King of Spies - in Dr No, Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever. Nolan is blessed with the best cinematographer in the business in Hoyte van Hoytema, working with a staggering array of cameras and lenses, the results distilled into the format that reigns supreme above all others. Dare I call it TRUMAX?

He is equally blessed with a strong cast led by John David Washington, a powerful charismatic and compelling screen presence, mysteriously dubbed The Protagonist. Robert Pattinson, plays Neil, amazingly mercurial, a double agent, maybe? His performance starts off firmly in Jude Law territory and ends up in Sean Connery land. Elizabeth Debicki, a real class act, as Kat the patrician wife of Andrei Sator, a heavy vodka sipping Russian Oligarch, as well as a clever anagram, torn from Central Casting by that great, veteran war horse Kenneth Brannagh, hardly wasted this time. Michael Caine, is looking worryingly fragile, but very welcome in his traditional cameo.

What the hell is Tenet about? A clue may be gleaned from the palindromic title. The concept of time travel is nothing new, but time travelling backwards and forwards at the same time? Or is it the other way round? Maybe Nolan should have filmed and screened it two strip Cinerama with one reel running backwards at the same time as one running forwards, or the other way round. Does the 2 and half hours running time feel more like five hours? Maybe in half the time. Oh yes, I forgot, it’s a spy movie. Or is it yps? Goodness me! Is that the time.
More in 70mm reading:

"Tenet" in the splendour of 7OMM

The Golden Age of 70mm

Internet link:

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Updated 03-09-20