Friday, 28 August 2020

Timey-wimey Tenet



As things stand, my big screen adventures are bookended by Star Wars movies. Due to personal circumstances this won't change for the foreseeable future and streaming services will be my goto. Continuing with Disney's live-action Mulan on Disney+ next month.

Following the easing of lockdown, cinemagoers are cautiously beginning to return to multiplexes and independent cinemas, and director Christopher Nolan's latest epic, Tenet, maybe the catalyst the film industry needs in the 'new normal'.

Paul Moxham, our resident film critic, editor and cameraman, discovers a brave new world at his local Vue Cinema.

Guest post by Paul Moxham

I’m just back from the cinema. Such a simple sentence, but one most people haven’t uttered in months. I watched Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. Another sentence I didn’t believe I would be saying in 2020 after the events of the past six months.

Firstly, the actual nuts and bolts of going to watch a movie in today’s world; pre-booking, keeping left, sanitising and mask-wearing. It feels a bit strange I’ll admit, and there’s something of a trial and error situation when combining mask and glasses so as not to watch the whole film through a fog. But when the lights went down and I could feel the bass of the subwoofers vibrate through my seat, the only thought going through my head was “Oh how I have missed this!”

Tenet carries the hopes of an entire industry on its shoulders. If a highly-anticipated Nolan film can’t tempt people back into auditoriums during a global pandemic what chance does anything else have? The film feels like it was made precisely for this task; it is the very definition of the big screen experience. From the concept, to the set pieces, the music, it bellows “This is cinema, and there’s nothing else like it!”

To explain the plot would both spoil things, and assume I know more than I do. Let’s just go with, a secret agent is shown another side of life he never knew existed, and must utilise it in order to prevent complete global annihilation. Does that sound similar to the synopsis of every James Bond film you’ve ever seen? That’s because this is a Bond film according to Christopher Nolan. Every fan wishes he’d make one, only a traditional 007 adventure is too constraining, too riddled with cliche, too shackled to fan service to be truly original. This is high espionage with the very rules of physics bent out of shape. Tenet is the product of uncompromising vision and dedication, the director demonstrating a level of confidence and control that is truly mind-blowing. Just planning something like this must add years to one’s life. But just like the lead character, we are encouraged to look at things in a different way and it is as exhilarating and rewarding as promised.

John David Washington is the coolest guy in the room as The Protagonist, confident and reactive with swagger to spare. Like Neo from The Matrix but with less of the wide eyes, and more of the tools required long ago hardwired into his brain. Rakish British intelligence operative Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki, so brilliant in Widows, provide excellent support. And whilst Kenneth Branagh brings his Russian accent from Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit; he is otherwise marvellous.

The story is simple, but the execution complex; near the beginning of the film, when explaining the mechanics of an object a character tells The Protagonist, “Don’t try to understand it.” I found myself recalling that a few times further down the line, and things felt much better when I considered that that’s what rewatches are for. The film is as gorgeous and glossy as you’d expect from the man behind Inception, the cinematography and soundtrack especially complimenting the themes. And it is Inception that this film cuts closest to, with its high stakes arena, wonderful set pieces and cool approach to character interaction. That’s not to say that Nolan’s films are emotionally barren, but they do cast a more clinical eye over those connections than most.

If there are quibbles to be had they are minor and familiar; the main problem being cranking the soundtrack and effects to kidney-quivering levels whilst leaving the dialogue to be reduced to all but a mumble at times. And in a film where every detail counts, critical information was lost because I simply couldn’t hear what was being said. And it could be argued that Nolan explores these themes and ideas in different guises often throughout his filmography. For me, that’s the true nature of an auteur and why I keep returning to his work with a huge sense of excitement and wonder.

I couldn’t have picked a better film for my return to the silver screen. If this is anything to go by, I can’t wait to go back. Maybe I already have?

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