Sep 1, 2020

An entertaining challenge from one of the world's best writer/directors at any time.


Grade: B+

Director: Christopher Nolan (Inception)

Screenplay: Nolan

Cast: John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse)

Runtime: 2h 30

Rating: PG-13

By: John DeSando

“Don’t try to understand it, feel it.”

Advice from a scientist in Tenet works well as you watch this sci-fi thriller from the acclaimed Christopher Nolan, who never could pass up a genre for his own take. His newest film is closer to his Inception and Memento, but for an intellectual romp, this time “time travel” is the fully operative motif.

It’s not helpful to have seen Back to the Future or Hot Tub Time Machine, for Tenet takes itself half seriously (e.g. the title is a palindromic bon-bon) as it explores the effect of the future on the present, or is it the other way around? See, even I’m confused while I still enjoyed Nolan’s filmmaking chops so evident in cinematography and action set pieces.

Nolan wants to play with the spy motif, and he succeeds. The Protagonist (John David Washington), as he is called in an unusually heavy-handed allegorical trope, is a secret agent type trying to stop WWIII. He has a Bondian deliciously bad oligarch, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), as his arch enemy and a sweet, albeit tall, femme in Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). Add world destruction as Sator’s goal, and you have a template for Bond, Bourne, Kirk, and myriad other time and space maneuvering  operatives.

The difference is that Nolan emphasizes the physics and philosophies of the conjunction of past with present as opposed to superficial gloss, although it has some mighty fetching eye candy at that. But the emphasis here is on the morality of messing with time and the temporal challenges with humans who must navigate time while entwined in love and hate and all that jazz.

I’m not sure I can right now make this mind-bending adventure more thematically cogent. Although it looks like Nolan is showing off, Tenet is a brainy challenge of movie making at its most amusing and provocative.

“All I have for you is a word: Tenet. It'll open the right doors, some of the wrong ones too.” Victor (Martin Donovan)

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at