Tenet (2020): A Thriller That Explores the Nature of Time

Tenet (2020) - IMDb

“Tenet” is a great film, but there is no way this film could have saved movie theaters and nor should it have. I wish more had been done in regards to studios waiting and helping theaters by having them as an option to stream films (support your local theatre by logging onto to their website, buy a virtual ticket and you can watch it from your home and still support them). That doesn’t have to do with the film though. This is a great science fiction film that made some compelling characters in a film that largely depends on the reveal of an idea. I won’t tell you anymore than that but if you are a Nolan fan and want some great sci. fi. concepts explored with amazing action, check this one out.

The film was directed and written by Christopher Nolan.

The story follows Protagonist (John David Washington) as he is pulled into the mysterious organization known as Tenet to stop World War III.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The idea of stopping World War III through time manipulation is really cool. Especially in how this is explored, initially through the reveal of time inverted bullets and eventually traveling inverted through time and having to avoid meeting yourself and causing a paradox. It is so much fun and the slow buildup to reveal works great.

The Action – The action is absolutely fantastic. The action is the best it has been since “Inception” and we get fights and car chases mixed with forward and reverse action, and it still making sense and really good hand to hand combat and gunplay. At the core this is a spy film and it does that really well.

The Characters – The characters either work on a basic level or are compelling in how they are portrayed and their backstories revealed over the course of the film. Each of them are given a moment of empathy and also a time to establish their power. Nolan does nuance.

Andrei Sator – Kenneth Branagh plays the Russian mobster who is the main villain of the piece. He never stops being bad and someone you want to root for to be taken down but he does have a few moments that give him some complexity. He gained wealth from the very thing that is killing him and therefore wants to end the world. He also at one point loved his wife it seems but even that maybe an illusion as he does have the delusion of seeing the destruction of the world as becoming a God. I appreciate how difficult he was to beat as it took all of Tenet’s resources and best agents to finally stop him from activating the Algorithm that would destroy the world through inverting entropy.

Katherine Barton – Elizabeth Debicki does a wonderful job as the abused wife of Andrei Sator who is using everything at her disposal to resist or escape. Her drive is to protect her son and to get revenge and when she finally gets revenge and calls out her abusive spouse it is rewarding. She goes through so much in this film and seeing her claim justice is one of the strongest parts of the film.

Ives – Ives is one of the agents from the future and knows the most of what is going on. He initially comes off as driven and militant but over time we see his humanity too as rather than complete what they believe the mission to be (after the parts of the algorithm are hid, ending their lives). The implication is that he won’t ever find them and it makes sense when we learn more of what is going on. He was the one who at that point held the most information on the nature of Tenet. Aaron Taylor-Johnson elevated would is initially presented as a fairly forgettable character.

Neil – Robert Pattinson’s Neil is Protagonist’s ally and eventual friend over the course of the film. He knows the rules of time travel the most and embraces each moment willingly. In this he helps Protagonist rise to the role he will eventually become. Pattinson imbues him with empathy, cleverness and a sense of mystery which makes him a lot of fun. I can’t wait to see his Batman. In the end he tells Protagonist that Protagonist founded Tenet and was the one to recruit him when Protagonist is much older. Establishing that loop of time.

Protagonist – John David Washington makes a character who has no backstory beyond being a CIA agent a compelling protagonist. In this we see what drives him and his connection to Katherine humanizes his drive as that personal connection more closely connects him to Sator. Seeing him grow into the role of the Protagonist and with what he learns at the end, closes the loop. Honestly, I’d watch another film with him and what else happens in Tenet.

The Nature of Time – Time is a loop and each time you go back you don’t change things but become a part of what happened. This was really cool in how it was handled and it doesn’t really answer the point of choice or destiny just that the loop exists based on the actions of the people using inversion. This core exploration that drives the film kept intrigued beyond the character drama.

The Cons:

Initial Stilted Dialogue – Everyone is talking in code at the beginning and I get it, it is a CIA operation but it just came off as stilled as silly. So glad that after the opening they got away from this. After the dialogue isn’t stilted but the opening is somewhat long.

Overlong in Parts – The opening and the final battle could have been cut by 5 minutes and been stronger for it. Both go on a bit longer than they need to and I would have traded it for backstory for Protagonist or more time with Neil and Ives.

Sound Editing – There are times that the sound editing is off. The soundtrack will go almost too electronic and it ruins the flow of some scenes. The soundtrack was still great but the sound editing is a point against it and the overall film. When it should be used to elevate scenes sometimes it was working against them. It never reaches the standard of “The Dark Knight Trilogy” for amazing sound editing.

This is a great, flawed and favorite film. This film made me care about a character who isn’t given a backstory and does a great job with exploring the nature of time and making it work in a spy thriller. Seriously, this film might make my Top 5 films at the end of the year. The elements that make it great far outweigh the flaws of the film.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 The ending reveal and character arcs won the film for me.

Top 5 Films of 2018

           Today was a busy year for me. Married my best friend, got a new job and because of all the planning and saving lead up to said events, like the wedding, I did not see as many films as I usually do. I also did not seek out bad films this year, and if I was going to see a crappy film I better to have least thought it would be good. Because of this there is only one film I can say I didn’t at least have fun with, and that film was “Mute.” Seriously, that film has beautiful cinematography but the story and characters are absolute garbage. It feels like a bunch of hacks got their hands on “Blade Runner” and that was their creation. So one film that I saw that I wouldn’t recommend for 2018.

Some of the fun forgettable films were “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Aquaman,” “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” and “Ready Player One,” that I would only ever see once. They were good for the experience but I don’t ever plan to buy them.

Now for the honorable mentions. There were a lot of great films that came out this year, some of which were in pretty steep competition for 4th and 5th place. Choosing those films took a while. For the great films that weren’t in the running for 4th or 5th place there was the Coen Brothers “Ballad of Buster Scruggs” which is a wonderful western vignettes, there is the heavy metal fantasy horror of “Mandy” that is beautiful and stunning with it’s visuals and music and I did enjoy “Solo: A Star Wars Story” even though it has a really stupid name. These were some of the greats that came out this year that weren’t competing to be on the list.

Now for the honorable mentions. For the ones that were on the list or nearly made the list at different points there is “Black Panther,” which has an amazing cast, one of my Marvel’s best villains in Killmonger and a great soundtrack. The reason it didn’t make the list in the end is I did find the story a bit predictable and had seen those story beats before in other films, but I did still enjoy it immensely.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/black-panther-2018-seeking-justice-in-a-broken-world/

The other runner up was “Avengers: Infinity War,” like “Black Panther” we have a great villain, an amazing cast and solid soundtrack. Where it falls apart is in how it is Part 1 of 2 and if 2 fails that will effect the overall story and at times it was a bit cluttered because of all the moving parts. I also found the big battles with large armies in both “Black Panther” and “Infinity War” not as creative as they could have been given how powerful the characters are. Visually more could have been done to raise the stakes and tension. Both are still favorite films by the way, but that kept them from making my Top 5.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/05/21/avengers-infinity-war-2018-the-power-of-a-compelling-villain/

The final film that nearly made the list was “A Quiet Place.” “A Quiet Place” is one of my favorite horror films and feels like a classic Spielberg horror film akin to “Jaws.” Where it doesn’t work is character stupidity and the monsters, when you finally see them they look stupid. This movie showed me that it is often better to not see the monster at all if you can’t come up with something frightening. The film’s horror worked because of what you didn’t see, once you saw the horror went away.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/a-quiet-place-2018-the-beauty-of-silence/

Now for the Top 5 films of 2018.:

5) Bird Box

Directed by Susanne Bier

Where “A Quiet Place” ceased to be scary once you saw the monsters, “Bird Box” kept me invested through the entire film. This was a film where it is all about what you don’t see. Whatever disease or cosmic horror has effected those who have gone outside it leads them to insanity or to kill themselves, all it takes is you looking outside for them or it to get you. As a concept I already love it and what makes it work is a wonderful cast of complex characters. John Malkovich plays the bitter man whose house the survivors are staying in who loses his wife early on in the event but who develops empathy over the course of the film. Sandra Bullock’s Malorie also has a similar arc where she learns to trust and develop empathy and even eventually love the people around her.  BD Wong and Trevante Rhodes also do an amazing job as the more empathetic characters who already care and are taking care of others whose actions help shape Malorie and the survivors. The horror element of not seeing what the terror is is the basic plot of the film. I was invested in the events of the film and want to see what Susanne Bier does next. This film has received a lot of press and become a living meme of sorts. It definitely isn’t everyone’s pot of tea but for me it was worth the hype.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/bird-box-2018-a-fantastic-post-apocalyptic-horror-thriller/

4) Sorry to Bother You

Directed by Boots Riley

“Sorry to Bother You” is Boot Riley’s first film, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. This is a film that is a surreal trip and exploration of race, class, passing and tackling corrupt people and systems as well as how easy it is to get caught up in and becoming a part of those systems of oppression. The story follows Cassius “Cash” Green who becomes a telemarketer to pay the rent. He soon finds himself pulled into a conspiracy when he joins his friends on strike and his bosses give him a chance to take the Golden Elevator up where all the big sales happen. The story is very Terry Gilliamesque akin to “Brazil” as we see Cash changed as he rises up among the elites as it all presented in a dreamlike state before the horror is revealed underneath. I won’t give away any more, but if you like films that have a deeper point you will probably love this film.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/12/31/sorry-to-bother-you-2018-a-surreal-exploration-of-race-class-and-privilege/

3) Hereditary

Directed by Ari Aster

“Hereditary” is a brilliant film that explores layers of trauma. For much of the film I questioned if the supernatural element was even there because the layers of pain that exist in the abuse that the mother has faced from her own mother and in turn carried onto her children is so heartbreaking and real. It truly is no wonder why all the characters are on edge and lashing out as the story unfolds of a family’s history and the darker secrets that were kept from the mother Annie who has experienced the brunt of this trauma and manipulation. The way they express the story through symbolism is stunning too as Annie is a famous artist who creates scenes of her life growing up in miniatures that give visual cues through the film. The ending is one of the most difficult horror scenes to get through as it takes you deep into some pretty horrible events but they payoff is amazing. If you are into horror you will love this film as it is easily one of the best horror films I have ever watched.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/hereditary-2018-layers-of-horror-and-history-in-a-beautiful-miniature/

2) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Directed by Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman and Bob Persichetti

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a masterpiece. This is a film that was made by Sony, so already my expectations were pretty low going in given their history of messing up the Spider-Man Franchise, but this film changes everything. This is easily the best Spider-Man film I have ever watched. We get complex heroes in Peter B. Parker, Gwen Stacey and Miles Morales (whose coming of age and becoming Spider-Man is the heart of the story) and wonderful villains like the Kingpin and Liv Octavius. This is a film that I hope suceeds as I want to see more of Gwen Stacey’s story as The Ghost Spider / Spider-Woman, I want to see more of Miles Morales and his story and I want to see the potential stories that remain in the expanse of possiblities that is the Spider-verse. This is a film that stands solidly on it’s own and even if nothing comes out of it, it was easily the best Super Hero film of the year for me and is one of the best animated films of all time (they mix different animation styles for the different characters and it works amazingly). If you haven’t seen this film yet, check it out.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/12/16/spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-2018-the-best-spider-man-film/

1) BlackKklansman

Directed by Spike Lee

Coming in at first we have “BlackKklansman.” This is a long film that doesn’t feel long at all given how well the character beats and message flow through the film. The story follows the first African-American cop Ron (John David Washington) in the police force in Colorado Springs and the racism and both personal and systemic that he comes up against. Sidelined within the force he calls David Duke and in turns forces the force to infiltrate the KKK in how he’s forced them to action. From here his complex relationship with Flip (Adam Driver) unfolds. This movie is full of great tension as Flip has to explore the prejudice him for being Jewish while helping the police force take down their operation they have planned in the area. The film has an amazing ending and even if the film didn’t have the exploration of racism and prejudice it’d be worth it just for the buddy cop relationship between Flip and Ron. I didn’t know what to expect going in but I came out impressed. This is an all-star cast and the writing is nearly flawless while also having some impressive cinematography that illustrates how trapped so many of the characters feel during the film. For me, this was easily the best film of the year.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2018/12/29/blackkklansman-2018-a-powerful-and-relevant-masterpiece/

BlacKkKlansman (2018): A Powerful and Relevant Masterpiece

 

Along with “Hereditary,” “BlacKkKlansman” is my favorite movie of the year thus far. This is a movie that shows why Spike Lee is considered one of the greats. He tackles issues that matter related to race and class and creates compelling characters. This film is a shining example of his expertise and I look forward to checking out more of his past work.

Spike Lee directed, produced and wrote this movie along with quite a few other folks. For producers, you might know Jason Blum, from Blumhouse Productions, and Jordan Peele, from “Get Out”. Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevil Willmott wrote it with Spike Lee. You can definitely see their influence in all the best ways, as Blum at his best brings tension and Peele brings awareness.

The story follows Detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, son of Denzil Washington) as the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He infiltrates the KKK after a phone conversation with their leader David Duke (Topher Grace) leading to the department assigning Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to be the face people see as they uncover the operation the KKK has in the area.

SPOILERS ahead

The Cinematography – The cinematography is great at creating tension and Chayse Irvin does a fantastic job of making each scene feel a claustrophobic. This is a film where you feel the pressure of being undercover and just how awful humans can be. At times, it has the closeness of a documentary, but it still manages to capture the feel of an action film through the entire run. We see this from the beginning with Ron appearing small and confined in the Black Student Union events as well as the full room feeling small as well. This makes a second appearance at the end when the KKK burns a cross on the hill across from Patrice’s and Ron’s apartment in retaliation for the events of the film. The camera gets in close on their panic and pans out a small window to reveal the large seen of terror meant to overwhelm them. Claustrophobia is simply used masterfully for both symbolism and fear.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of this film. Each of them gives a different perspective in relationship to racism and justice. How that is explored gives different dimensions to all of them as the film progresses.

Flip – Adam Driver plays Detective Flip, a Jewish-American detective who goes undercover in the KKK as Ron Stallworth. It is here that he realizes just how deep anti-Semitism goes in the United States.  From this, he begins to relate much more to Ron’s struggle as an African-American man in Colorado Springs. He questions the mission at first, but after coming around he gets angry at the Police Department for shutting down the investigation after they prevent a KKK terror attack.

Patrice – Patrice is the President of the Black Student Union at Colorado College. She doesn’t trust the police and we see why when one of them sexually abuses her after a march. Laura Herrier (Liz from “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) does an amazing job. She is wholly focused on justice and brings in speakers to the college. These lectures are throughout the film and boost the main themes present in the movie, as speakers talk about structural racism that exists and pervades in the United States.

Ron – Ron is the detective who is undercover in the Colorado College Black Student Union. As someone who relates to all they are going through (he is the first African-American cop in this small town and obviously grew up facing extreme racism) he speaks in defense of them and eventually uses his place on the force to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. He calls their headquarters and gets membership, convincing David Duke he is a white. Over the course of the film we see how his relationship with Patrice develops, with him eventually revealing that he is an undercover cop and why he was at Black Student Union events in the first place. This changes their relationship, but they get through it. She never ever trusts him fully, given her own past experiences and privileges provided to police and abuses she has experienced and witnessed. Ron understands this but doesn’t leave the force even though the chief at times looks down on him and he is never given the chance to do undercover work. Him calling David Duke was him taking action because he was bored and saw being on the narcotics force as doing nothing to help people. Any action he takes to make things better is him coming up against the system that he is a part of and it makes his relationship as a cop on the force intriguing.

History and Structural Racism – On what I said before, racism has not gone away. This is a film that recognizes that (it is Spike Lee, I’d be surprised if it didn’t). Spike Lee digs into the power of the KKK, of how the one guy who wants to go after them (Ron, and later his partner) get turned away by the police department because those in power don’t want those who sympathize or help the KKK to get heat. This is still reality. It is hard to say it has gotten better when the President says, “There are good people on both sides,” at a White Nationalist Rally where a counter protester was murdered. The current President of the United States said that, and that cannot be understated. Things don’t just change when laws are passed, racism is real as is the fact that if you are white in America, you are privileged and more likely to be in positions of power. History isn’t just erased, it moves forward with everything else and current events illustrate that horrifyingly.

The Past and Today – The end of the film ends with Trump failing to condemn the White Nationalists / KKK folks and saying there were good people on both sides. Something that should be easy wasn’t… who does someone like that surround themselves with? That is the reality of where we are today and why the fight for civil rights is ongoing. You don’t kill racism or upend structural racism in a generation. It takes time, generations and work. Look at anywhere around the world that has gone through extreme turmoil and oppression. The story of humanity isn’t pretty and the only way anything gets done is by speaking.

This was a film that deals with the modern terrors of the KKK, racism and the structural racism of the past and present and tells it through compelling history and characters. The demons of the past have never left the United States and I believe in this movies call to action. Call out racism where you see it and work to make things better for everyone. Structural racism and the sins of the past that seep through the present can’t be ignored. This country can be so much better, as can all the individuals who make up the U.S.A.

Final Score: 10 / 10. Perfect and relevant.