Review: ‘Tenet’ graces the big screen in the nick of time

“Tenet,” the time-twisting action-spy thriller from auteur Christopher Nolan, is finally released in movie theaters, but does the latest motion picture from the director of “The Dark Knight” trilogy, “Dunkirk” and “Inception” live up to the pent-up expectations of absent moviegoers and will it save the film industry?

"Tenet" is directed by Christopher Nolan and stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh and Elizabeth Debicki. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — It’s the film that a lot of moviegoers — and theater owners and major movie studios, too — have been waiting for all summer, and it can be summed up in one word: “Tenet.”

But the plot to director Christopher Nolan’s trippy time-traveling, action-packed, international espionage thriller that was finally released in movie theaters is a lot harder to describe.

The first “major” new theatrical release stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh and Elizabeth Debicki to be sure, but much remains open to interpretation.

Whether it was deliberate on Nolan’s part or the motion picture, with its sci-fi premise, requires a certain suspension of disbelief on the viewer’s part and multiple viewings are almost recommended.

Audiences may first have noticed Washington — son of actor Denzel Washington — for his breakthrough role in Spike Lee’s crime film “BlacKkKlansman” that was released in 2018.


The 36-year-old actor has had a relatively limited number of roles, but Washington’s fresh face and his athleticism — he played professional football for the St. Louis Rams in real life — commands the screen as a spy tasked with stopping something worse than nuclear holocaust.

Washington is paired with Pattinson, an actor who has grown out of his teen heart-throb role in the vampiric, young adult “Twilight” franchise and was currently filming “The Batman” in London until production members recently tested positive for the coronavirus and halted work.

Pattinson plays a fixer in “Tenet” who is able to procure whatever is needed by Washington in the motion picture, a foppish and erudite partner-in-crime with a master’s degree in physics.

Washington’s character must first master the mind-blowing technology that makes time travel possible by reversing entropy, which allows people and objects to move backward through time.

How that is exactly done remains a bit murky, and early on in the film a scientist point-blank tells Washington to “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” (Uh, OK.)

“Tenet” conversely takes itself more seriously than, say, the recent bromance sequel “Bill & Ted Face the Music” and the nostalgia-laced “Back to the Future” series — like way more serious.



Washington and Pattinson pair off against a Russian oligarch played all-too-convincingly by Branagh. The Irish actor growls and snarls, and chews up the scene in a menacing fashion.

Branagh also seeks control over time and uses his considerable wealth and power to keep the duo at bay as they chase him from one corner of the world to another in the PG-13 film.

Branagh is intent on procuring the parts of a doomsday device — a literal time bomb left in the past from those in the future — with or without the aid of his alluring wife played by Debicki.

Often in adventure films, the lead actress is relegated to the role of damsel-in-distress and while Debicki’s character starts off that way it is rewarding and refreshing to see her not stay that way.

Debicki holds her own in the testosterone-fueled yet cerebral caper. The 6-foot-3-inch Australian actress towers over her co-stars and provides the emotional core of the film with global stakes.

She plays a wife and a mother in an abusive relationship with Branagh who must face her own fears and has to decide whether to help Washington and Pattinson at the risk of losing her son to the tyrant who is willing to achieve his apocalyptic dreams of dominion of life as we know it.



Time travel has always been a personal fascination of mine and even if one were not scientifically inclined or a sci-fi fan, who can resist the tantalizing possibility of “What ifs?”

Nolan taps into that in the film he also wrote, with intriguing notions of “free will,” “destiny” and age-old questions that have vexed philosophers such as whether the ends justify the means.

Those who have seen Nolan’s other works like “Inception,” a 2010 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a thief who steals information by infiltrating the subconscious of others, and “Memento,” a 2000 neo-noir psychological thriller with Guy Pearce, know Nolan has a lot to say.

Whether audiences have the time and patience to listen and think about the concepts the auteur presents on the silver screen remains to be seen. “Tenet” grossed $20.2 million over the Labor Day weekend proving that at least Nolan fans or those familiar with his films wanted more.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reviewer had this to say about Nolan’s latest: “Maybe you could follow what is happening if you wrote it all down on a flow chart with circles and arrows and multiple colored inks ... and that's hard to do in a dark movie theater.”

One thing is for certain: This movie will have you thinking about it long after you leave the theater. And for me, that’s one of the hallmarks of a good movie, one that lasts long after the popcorn is gone.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

Frank Lee.jpg
Frank Lee

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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