HBO Go review: You may need to watch Nolan's 'Tenet' twice or thrice to truly get it

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jun 14 2021 07:04 AM

HBO Go review: You may need to watch Nolan's 'Tenet' twice or thrice to truly get it 1
A scene from 'Tenet'

A CIA agent, who later called himself the Protagonist (John David Washington), was part of a team on a mission to recover a cache of plutonium-241 from a siege at the Kiev Opera House. He was told that he was working in an underground organization called Tenet, which aimed to avert World War III by studying bullets with futuristic nuclear technology which made them have "inverted" entropy, or traveling backwards in time.

As the metals in the bullets came from India, he met with Indian arms dealer Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia), who directed him to Russian billionaire Andrei Sator (a chilling Kenneth Branagh) who can somehow operate his destructive plans from the future. To get to Sator, he had to get in contact with his estranged wife, art dealer Kat Barton (the elegant Elizabeth Debicki), whom the ruthless Sator held hostage with her past errors in judgement. 

A Christopher Nolan film is always a challenge to get through the first time around. Like it was for "Memento" (2000), "The Prestige" (2006), "Inception" (2010) and "Interstellar" (2014), you know you are watching a film of complexity and substance, even if you do not get it right away. Once you think you are following the plot, there comes another layer to throw you off completely. It was a bit more difficult for this one because for some key scenes, the characters voices are muffled by their gas masks or drowned by background music or sound effects.

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This was very technically-polished film in terms of its cinematography, film editing and Oscar-winning visual effects, which created much cinematic excitement, like the scene of men using bungee cords to launch up and run up a building, that visually-astounding scene of a freight airplane carrying a load of gold bars crashing through an airport in Oslo, and those mind-boggling scenes of characters and cars running forwards and backwards in time within the same time frame, be they fist fights in a cramped warehouse corridor, or a daring heist and car chase on a busy highway in Tallinn. 

To say that the plot was complicated is putting it lightly, especially with all the globe-trotting (Kiev-Mumbai-London-Oslo-Amalfi Coast), unfamiliar theoretical physics jargon in the dialogue, and watching the future overlapping with present all within the first hour of this 2 hour and a half film. 

Even if I appreciated with the great visuals and the concept of the temporal pincer movement on the first watch, I only understood things better the second time around with the subtitles, still not totally. It was actually completely watchable even the third time around, it was that fascinating.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."