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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 26, 2021



AS A FILMMAKER, Christopher Nolan is known for films that can be baffling, starting with “Memento” about a man with short-term memory loss, to the equally brain-twisting “The Prestige”, “Interstellar” and “Inception”, all marked with self indulgence that aims for profundity. 

He is more accessible in his Batman films and with the war film “Dunkirk”. 

He now comes up with one of his more enigmatic films to date, “Tenet”. The lead character is nameless, just known as the Protagonist (John David Washington). The sprawling opening scene shows soldiers attacking a huge opera house with thousands of extras used.  

The Protagonist is held captive by his enemies and takes a cyanide capsule. But he doesn’t die and wakes up to be told it’s just a test of his loyalty. 

An organization called Tenet tasks him to trace the origin of bullets with inverted entropy. This is the premise on which the whole movie hangs.

Entropy is a scientific concept associated with a state of uncertainty or disorder. In the movie, the entropy of things results into not just the usual time travel but time being reversible. 

So if you’re willing to buy this idea, then you might enjoy this piece of science-fiction cum fantasy-thriller with plenty of well conceived action scenes.

The inverted bullets are believed to have come from the future and in his quest for its origin, the Protagonist meets another agent, Neil (Robert Pattinson).

Together, they trace the bullets to an arms dealer in India, Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia) and through her, they meet Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), an art dealer.

Kat used to be the wife of a Russian mogul, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), who seems to have connections in the future. 

In the course of the story, the Protagonist and Neil figure in a big sequence where they steal something in a freeport warehouse in Oslo using an entire plane to execute their mission. This is an extravagant sequence where they use a real plane to crash into a building.

There is also an inverted car chase and a spectacular ambush scene involving a convoy to steal a case with plutonium involving time travel. 

It turns out that Sator is capable of assembling an algorithm that can be used as a trigger in inverting the entropy of the Earth, leading to everyone’s destruction. 

He wants to do this because he himself is dying of pancreatic cancer and, naghahanap ng damay, he wants everyone to die with him. 

The climax is a very complex sequence where some characters travel back in time and move in reverse. 

Kat is in Vietnam to confront Sator while the Protagonist and Neil are in Siberia where Sator’s algorithm is guarded by his men. 

They all have to synchronize their movements, with non-inverted and inverted troops fighting each other so you’d see some people and things moving backward and some of them moving forward. 

Will they succeed in saving the world? In the end, there is one big revelatory twist in the story involving the Protagonist. Again, it’s up to you to buy it or not. 

There’s no doubt that, visually, the film is dazzling and spectacular, shot in gorgeous locations in various countries, including Italy, Estonia, Vietnam, Denmark, India, Norway, etc, captured in all their grandeur. 

In other words, it’s like what we’ve come to expect from Nolan after “Inception” and “Intersellar”. 

Like “Inception”, we’re sure it will also have cult followers who will resort to multiple viewings to decipher its twisty narrative that seems better suited to an episode of “Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror”. 

For us, though, it comes as something just crazily preposterous and viewers who hate a movie that makes them think will surely be disappointed, what with its running time at a lengthy two hours and a half. 

The film is ambitious, trying to reach lofty cinematic greatness and obviously very expensive, but it feels like an empty, humorless spectacle.

It just fails to achieve its lofty vision of making a very complex film. 

The mission of the Protagonist to restrain Astor from using an algorithm that will wipe out the entire human race and everything else that has happened in human history is a threat that seems just so bizarrely absurd. 

This is evident in the fact that award-giving bodies ignored it and even the Oscars nominated it in just two technical categories, one of which is best visual effects, which it truly deserves.

In terms of performances, we enjoyed Branagh’s underplaying as the villain. He never goes over the top but comes out as more quietly menacing. 

The film’s biggest drawback is in casting John David Washington, a former football player. He just lacks the charisma of his father, Denzel. 

We think Denzel in his younger years would be perfect as the Protagonist. Sadly, his son lacks his magnetic and charismatic presence. 

There are many young more dynamic black actors today who could have been considered for the role, like Stephan James of “If Beale St. Could Talk”, Eli Goree of “One Night in Miami” and Rege Jean Page of “Bridgerton”. 

They would certainly make a greater impact on screen as a black version of James Bond today.

John David is kinda short, specially when he’s side by side with the towering Aussie actress Elizabeth Debicki who must be 6’3” in height and looks every inch the willowy ballet dancer that she really is. 

Debicki first dazzled us in the acclaimed John LeCarre TV series “The Night Manager”, and here, she gives a subtle but very fetching performance as a mom who simply wants to be reunited to her estranged son with Sator, with whom she has a riveting dysfunctional love-hate relationship.