Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Film Review: "Tenet" (2020).

"Time Runs Out" in Tenet. This spy film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.

Over twenty years, Nolan conceived the ideas for the film, but remarked "I've been working on this iteration of the script for about six or seven years". In March 2019, John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, and Elizabeth Debicki were cast. By late May, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clémence Poésy, Himesh Patel, Martin Donovan, and Mélanie Laurent rounded out the film's cast. Nolan chose Washington for his performance in BlacKkKlansman (2018). There was much secrecy surrounding the project before its release. Nolan chose Pattinson after seeing his performances in Good Time (2017) and The Lost City of Z (2016). When casting for the female lead, Nolan nearly passed on Debicki because he thought that she was an American after seeing her in Widows (2018). So when Thomas suggested the actress, she had to inform him that she wasn't American. Kapadia's screen test was put together by director Homi Adajania while working on his 2020 film Angrezi Medium. Washington, Pattinson and Debicki were only allowed to read the script once, in a locked room at Warner Bros. studios. It took Washington around five hours to finish reading it because he kept flipping back and forth "in pure amazement." Branagh revealed that he read the script more times than anything he had ever worked on. He compared navigating through the script to doing the Times' crossword puzzle every single day. Caine wasn't even allowed to read the entire script; he was only given his scenes to read before shooting. Prior to the film's release, Caine told press that he had no idea what the movie was about, despite being a close friend and a frequent collaborator of Nolan. 

At the same time, with a budget of $205 million, principal photography commenced and wrapped in early November. Filming took place in Denmark, Estonia, India, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and United States under the working title Merry Go Round. The film was shot on IMAX and 70mm film with Panavision lenses. Custom equipment and lenses were made for the film, that allowed IMAX cameras to be used more heavily. For instance, a custom camera head was built for the film, that would fit within a car and let an IMAX camera be turned around 360 degrees. Lenses were also constructed that would allow the filmmakers to shoot in lower-light situations, something that is traditionally limited when shooting with IMAX cameras. Nolan is a huge fan of the James Bond movies, and that love of the spy genre flows through the film. However, Nolan tried his best not to watch any movies that may overtly influence him while working on the film - this was the longest period of time the director had ever gone in his life without watching a Bond film. This is because he wanted to work from a memory and a feeling of that genre; he wasn't trying to do his own version of a James Bond movie, but was instead attempting to create the excitement that many people felt watching the Bond films when they were kids. One of director Nolan's filmmaking traditions is to gather his cast and crew together before production begins and screen movies that served as inspiration to the project they're working on together. For this film, however, Nolan intentionally broke his longstanding tradition and didn't host any screenings. He wanted the cast and crew to work from a feeling and memory of the spy genre (including the James Bond films), as opposed to trying to recreate them. Special effects supervisor Scott R. Fisher watched World War II movies and documentaries to find reference points for realism. 

For the film's score, Zimmer turned Nolan down for the first time in over a decade due to scheduling conflicts with scoring his longtime passion project Dune (2020). He was replaced by newcomer Ludwig Göransson, who had recently won an Oscar for his work on Black Panther (2018). Zimmer is friends with Göransson and had suggested him to Nolan. Göransson was about to begin orchestral sessions for the film's score when the United States shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, the soundtrack was completed by putting together individual recordings of the musicians in their homes. Warner Bros. Pictures originally scheduled Tenet for a July 17, 2020 release in IMAX, 35 mm, and 70 mm film. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was first delayed to July 31, and subsequently August 12. After being held up indefinitely, Warner Bros. arranged the film to be released internationally on August 26 in seventy countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom. It will then move to select cities in the United States on September 3, gradually expanding in the ensuing weeks. Although many film productions were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nolan was able to complete post-production in more or less the same way he normally would. A rough cut of the film was finished before the lockdown came into place, and further editing was completed in Nolan's edit suit in his Los Angeles home, where he's worked on his films since The Dark Knight (2008). It also helped that, though based in California, Nolan has used visual effects house Double Negative London for years and therefore is used to corresponding remotely.

Washington confidently embodied The Protagonist while Pattinson has all the fun in the best action sequence. It is Debicki's performance that does the emotional heavy lifting. Branagh is his usual terrific self. He is the Sir Laurence Olivier of this generation.

A smart summer thriller filled with visionary set pieces, grand imagery and exciting twists, but its lack of a straightforward and emotional center keeps it just short of greatness. However, it is a different kind of espionage thriller that is hard to imagine it coming from any filmmaker other than Nolan.

Simon says Tenet receives:

Also, see my review for Dunkirk.

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