Tag: Christopher Nolan

Tenet (2020) Review

Tenet (2020) Review

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is the latest big-budget action film that somehow manages to shine at a time when it shouldn’t. But it doesn’t stop the film from delivering clever and thrilling sequences that don’t leave enough information for audiences to work with.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic setting Hollywood back across 2020, this is where Nolan’s time-bending espionage movie took on an even bigger anticipation (in the wrong ways) and marked a return for those yearning to feel the hug of a big silver screen again. It’s more than a bold statement to pull off such a feat in the face of losing interest. But if you thought Tenet was fun and mind-bending from the trailers, the full movie manages to take its absurd twist and squeeze out a surprise in every set piece across its two-and-a-half hour runtime.

Tenet (2020)

Nolan also returns to creating a modern tale with more than a touch of fluid action, dash of practical visual effects and sprinkles of meta theories. It’s incredibly easy to think Tenet is a spiritual successor to 2010’s Inception, but merely uses its formula of making the absurd believable. The result is a film that puts all of Nolan’s favourite ingredients into full force, even if it loses the audience way before things cut to black. It’s an even better treat for Nolan followers, enamored by the closely-followed gunfights of The Dark Knight Rises and show-all explanations from The Prestige.

Tenet‘s premise also comes off as a more serious no-nonsense narrative about an unnamed, but highly (incredibly) skilled CIA agent caught in a race to save the world from a Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who discovered a way to tamper with the past. The agent (John David Washington) follows his only lead: the word Tenet. This leads him in a partnership with mysterious operative Neil (Robert Pattinson) as they pick up the time-bending breadcrumbs. It’s a simpler plot which Nolan handles with care in order to make space for Tenet‘s meta elements.

Thanks to a younger but breakout veteran cast, their performances and natural pairings with each other make Tenet‘s transitions between action pieces very enjoyable. This is where John David Washington’s channels his experience as a lead in BlacKkKlansman and becomes a stoic, ruthless badass. But when his nameless character isn’t brutally taking on-screen goons down, Washington uses his role to make both actors and their characters comfortable like a real agent. This somber, witty banter brought me a few chuckles in a film where my brows strained from concentration. It’s also made convincing as other characters show their own motives as agents, making Washington adaptable to strange moments in time (and even stranger moments from characters testing his patience).

Tenet (2020)

Given Washington’s weight in the light cast, Tenet has more value in the own stunts he does. This adaptability from dialogue to action almost becomes an instinct, following Washington’s experience playing college football and running back for Sacramento Mountain Lions. I was impressed at Washington’s propensity to propel and slide into action, like a younger Tom Cruise unflinched by the surrounding chaos in a Nolan firefight. As with all movies screwing with time, Tenet also shows some action in reverse, apparently a challenge for Washington when he moves awkwardly through them.

Washington is also mutually beneficial for Robert Pattinson, known for communicating with body language and a few words. But fans of Pattinson might find him more comfortable and chattier in a modern situation. He also fits in a surprisingly likeable role that leaves viewers with more respect following his character’s story arc. Elizabeth Debicki plays Kat, who just as comfortably delivers a performance for the wife of Tenet‘s villain. Reflecting her chemistry with Kenneth Branagh, their roles as husband and wife are both hostile and terrifying. Debicki transitions from hiding her fears to facing them after years of abuse from Sator. For Branagh, viewers might flinch at his unbridled fury shown at his wife, but scales it back as a typical and barely patient criminal boss in other parts.

Without spoilers, inversion is Tenet‘s phenomenon in which I can drop an apple but somehow undo that action on the spot. Or showing up to a messy room, only to find it cleans itself in reverse as I walk around. Weird right? Inversion is also what drives the plot to all sorts of strange places, until it makes an effort to explain why things happened the way they did. From condos, to airplanes and a family sedan, Nolan has somehow turned these normal objects into bigger threats under inversion. Not only are they a clever source for tension in the movie, but create some memorable moments rarely shown by past action flicks. But Tenet‘s approach of revealing the rules during the action instead of beforehand takes Nolan’s direction a step back from Inception. Its ending is less ambiguous, thanks to Nolan telling a straightforward interpretation of his theory with a narrower focus. It’s important to pay attention to the film’s prologue, as it contains a subtle detail that viewers can miss.

Tenet (2020)

It’s also a tougher temptation for Nolan to raise a bar for “real” death-defying spectacles from fellow directors such as Christopher McQuarrie, who was on a roll in Mission Impossible‘s resurgence since Ghost Protocol. But Tenet ultimately gives in and echoes the vibe of a spy film that tries to speak louder than its action. This is when Nolan delivers on the most action in any other of his films to date, stitched by breaks of time-theory explanation and character banter that feels too light for it to sink in with audiences. Despite the strongest viewers keeping their eyes peeled and ears sharp, the underdeveloped dialogue is what made me and many others skip a beat. This created more numbness and less of an impact when a time-bending effect actually does happen on-screen, leaving our minds rampant in an effort to fill in the blanks before.

This is standard Nolan procedure for those who’ve watched 2010’s Inception, which dedicated entire scenes to reiterating one theory before adding new rules. But Tenet‘s rush to fill in more action scenes ultimately detracts from the fun of understanding it all. My first (and only) screening of the film did help me get the basics of time-bending, or inversion according to official movie term. Given you’re making the most out of Tenet’s intentional mumbled quality, it’s still enough to make your jaws drop when the movie’s second act turns up the heat.

There’s just enough visual cues to let you know when something has happened (or hasn’t happened yet). Tenet makes super clever use of its inversion scenes, to the point where its seemingly smaller fight scenes actually make sense once the mystery clears up. Nolan has made an effective pacing from dedicating the first act to an investigation, then finding out inversion the hard way. It’s only when Tenet reveals the twist where things get fun across the third and final act. There’s credit in how the movie tries to tie its action scenes together if words have failed to do so at the start. It’s murkier by the time viewers see it, and more confusing once I was expected to know inversion fully when the curveballs start hitting me in the face.

I’ve gotten more than my spoiled amount of action from Tenet as things stop making sense on screen. It’s worth noting that Nolan has renewed his IMAX vows and viewers should be watching Tenet for how much it’s shot in 70mm. Nearly the entire screen is used this time, and takes up almost all of the action dominating half its runtime. This worked incredibly well for stunts performed on Tenet‘s large set pieces which heightened the tension for characters once things hit the fan. Like watching Inception in IMAX, going the extra mile for the bigger picture is no longer a novelty in Nolan’s books.

Why Dunkirk Needed To Be Rated PG 4

Why Dunkirk Needed To Be Rated PG

Summer movie season is a time for superheroes, space battles, and random stupid rom-coms. But this July, Dunkirk was released—a bonafide Oscar contender that opened amidst films like War for the Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. All these movies had massive marketing campaigns, obscene budgets, and were all based far away from reality. But Dunkirk is a war movie about the true events leading up to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of British troops in May of 1940. In its opening weekend, Dunkirk topped the box office, raking just over 55 million in North America and crossing 100 million worldwide.

How could a war movie tucked in between some of the summer’s most hopeful blockbusters have out produced them all?

The answer—Christopher Nolan.

Why Dunkirk Needed To Be Rated PG 3
Dunkirk (images via imdb.com)

Nolan is the director who brought us The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar. And with The Dark Knight Trilogy, he produced a legion of fans that would follow him anywhere—this past weekend those same fans went along with his WWII tale. Those fans aren’t whole-heartedly superhero movie fans. These are fans of perhaps the greatest director of his generation.

With or without his audience in mind, Nolan did something rather bold with Dunkirk. He made his war film PG.

There was quite a buzz surrounding the announcement that Dunkirk would be PG. Could a World War II film worth its salt be made at this rating? Other World War II films like Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and most recently, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, were fraught with violence and bloodshed. It’s the kind of bloodshed puts audiences right in the action—so close to the carnage that they would never want to be a part of any war.

How could Nolan’s Dunkirk compete?

Simple. He created a film that leans more on being a harrowing thriller than a blood and guts war film. Should the gore of war have been a significant part of Dunkirk, it could have taken away from the white-knuckling nature of this film. All anyone had to do was google the events of Dunkirk to find out the ending—there’s no surprise there. However, Nolan’s direction took audiences on a captivating, yet relatively bloodless, thrill ride.

Why Dunkirk Needed To Be Rated PG 2
Dunkirk (images via imdb.com)

Nolan’s plot choices, like choosing to lessen the bloodshed, allowed the focus of the film to be on the event itself and not the glory and carnage of war, but the events at Dunkirk take center stage in Nolan’s exquisite tale. Where most other war films delve deep into character, whether in Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Schindler’s List, or The Thin Red Line. Dunkirk follows a handful of characters, those men played by Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, and Kenneth Branagh never overshadow the events at Dunkirk.

This is where Nolan’s mastery of the film medium is clearly evident. Dunkirk plays out much like a silent film. The film has very little dialogue and it’s the imagery of the visual medium that tells the story. Much like what George Miller accomplished in 2015 with Mad Max: Fury Road, Dunkirk utilizes the visual nature of film to its fullest—giving audiences a true work of art.

Why Dunkirk Needed To Be Rated PG
Dunkirk (images via imdb.com)

Finally, Nolan’s choice for creating such a riveting war film but rating it PG has widened the movie’s viewership considerably. Should the film have pushed closer to Hacksaw Ridge with exploding bodies and missing limbs, the only ones watching the film would be anyone over 18 or children of delinquent parents. Having Dunkirk rated PG, the film can be used as a teachable medium for young people. Nolan’s movie could easily be shown in high schools the world over, offering students not only a historical tale but also a compelling drama of heroism and the push for the communal good.

The thing is, Dunkirk never downplays the horrors of war. The sacrifices both the soldiers and the civilians made are never diminished—mostly because of Nolan’s superior filmmaking ability. The film is a teachable movie on many levels and Nolan has made a clear effort to allow as many audience members as he could to see his film with it still being a war movie.

And we are all the better for it. Dunkirk clocks in at just over 100 minutes—it’s a brisk war movie the whole family can enjoy.

Well, most of the family anyway.

Dunkirk (Movie) Review: The Dark Day and Night

Dunkirk (Movie) Review: The Dark Day and Night

In some ways, Dunkirk represents the culmination of the blockbuster craft that director Christopher Nolan has slowly folded into his chilly and cerebral filmmaking style. From The Dark Knight on, all of Nolan’s blockbusters peak with carefully edited sequences that weave together several climaxes unfolding on several timelines (and occasionally several planes of reality). The technique is intense, breathlessly jumping between climatic set pieces in ways that give viewers little time to breathe as his films operatically swell to a flourish. At a trim 106 minutes, Dunkirk is Nolan’s shortest movie, and that’s because it’s one of his multi-level criss-cross climaxes expanded to feature length. There’s no set up and even less resolution, just one epic war movie that pounds on viewers like a densely orchestrated ride. It’s a remarkable achievement of pure cinema and is sure to be remembered as one of Nolan’s finest directorial achievements.

Dunkirk (Movie) Review: 3

The film kicks off in the middle of the events of Dunkirk. An almost entirely unseen German army has pushed the Brits to the edge of the English Channel. 400,000 soldiers are now sitting ducks for an enemy that surrounds them on land, sea, and air. The Brits can see England yet can’t reach it, and the waters are too shallow for any of the biggest Brit navy vessels to cross. It’s a pickle. Nolan plays this madness out across three simultaneous storylines. There’s the group on the beach/in the boats—a vast collection of panicked soldiers led by Kenneth Branagh’s stiff upper lip commander unsure of how it’ll all end. There’s a civilian father (Mark Rylance) with two young boys who volunteers to take his boat across the channel in the hopes of saving as many soldiers as possible. Then there are two fighter pilots (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden) in the air with a bird’s eye view of it all—while shooting down a few bombers and fighters. Nolan breathlessly cuts between the three storylines and dozens of characters. To complicate things, each story has its own timeline that overlaps with the others in unexpected ways to add further depth, perspective, and shocks.

Dunkirk (Movie) Review: 4
Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan

By Nolan standards, Dunkirk has a surprisingly straightforward script. The war epic is stripped down to bare bones to make viewers feel as though they’ve been thrust into the middle of the action to suffer and triumph alongside the characters. There’s no single protagonist and the movie star faces like Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy get equal screen time with unknowns. All the performances are strong, but none get conventional heroic journeys. Nolan casts famous faces only so that they’ll stick out when characters appear in unexpected spots across timelines. Otherwise, the film is more about the collective experience than anything resembling conventional narrative. It’s all about feeling the story rather than listening to it. Almost like the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan expanded to feature-length.

Dunkirk (Movie) Review: 1
Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan

Good lord is the film ever visceral and intense. The muted colours, deep focus, and massive scale of the imagery overwhelms and envelops the audience while Hans Zimmer’s never ending score of screeches and rumbles digs into your guts to provide an anxiety-inducing sense of panic. From the first scene to the last, you’re trapped with these men through vicious attacks and impossible moral quandaries. Sweat covers your back and bass rattles your teeth. Nolan shoves characters and viewers into impossibly cramped locations that quickly become death traps. Then he’ll cut to vast spaces just as imposing in their own way. It’s a complete sensory assault that demands to be viewed on the largest possible canvas for maximum impact. Dunkirk rattles the bones as a blockbuster and snaps together like perfectly constructed puzzle. At times it can feel abstract and overwhelming, but always with the purpose of thrusting viewers into the middle of a remarkable story, never merely to alienate.

There’s also mercifully little nationalistic rabble-rousing, just enough to suit the story and always laced with some sort of brutal irony. This film might be obsessively specific about the events on Dunkirk, but it also feels like a more general statement about war. One that plunges viewers headfirst into the terrifying panic of combat, criticizing the act of war as humanity’s deepest madness while also honouring those who triumph and survive. It’s not a conventional summer blockbuster, yet it’s also the most viscerally thrilling cinematic spectacle playing in theaters. After only one viewing, Dunkirk feels like something destined to be studied and remembered. It’s one of the greatest war films ever made, one of Christopher Nolan’s greatest achievements, and might just be the finest film of the year. This is a film that must be experienced to be believed and one that deserves to be seen in the biggest and best theatre possible. Don’t miss it.

Interstellar (Movie) Review 1

Interstellar (Movie) Review

Interstellar is the type of movie that only a director like Christopher Nolan could make at the peak of his success. It’s the type of grand, sweeping, thoughtful epic that scares off studios unless you’re a filmmaker who could seemingly make $700 million at the box office by farting on celluloid. At the same time, it’s also the type of film that could only be made by a filmmaker who has been given so much power that no one is willing to question any of his decisions. If you’ve seen Dark Knight Rises, then you’ll know exactly what that means in both the good ways and the bad. There are astoundingly beautiful sequences and also some incredibly boneheaded dialogue and plot holes big enough to fly a spaceship through (which literally happens at one point). It’s an alternatingly frustrating and enthralling blockbuster that should be seen on the biggest possible screen available simply to revel in the remarkable technical accomplishment, even if that same screen will also make the problems that much easier to spot.

Matthew McConaughey stars as a former astronaut turned farmer. You see, an unspecified world war induced tragedy has essentially plagued the entire planet with a global dustbowl. Resources are dwindling by the second, so farmers have become more valuable than engineers and that’s exactly how McConaughey wastes away his adult years, now a single father to a pair of precocious teens. Then one day his daughter starts noticing strange things happening in her room. Initially she thinks it’s ghosts, but soon patterns emerge in the phenomenon that McConaughey recognizes as binary code providing coordinates to a secret location. When he gets there, the location turns out to be the secret home of NASA who are working on an extra secret mission led by Michael Caine and his daughter Anne Hathaway. With Earth’s death imminent, they’re looking for alternatives and thanks to a wormhole in our solar system, there’s a gateway to a new system of planets that might offer salvation. McConaughey is asked to pilot a mission to the new system, exploring the planets with the hopes of either returning home to bring everyone else with them or colonizing a new planet with frozen embryos to kick start humanity elsewhere. So, he gets on a ship leaving his children behind for what could be decades and could be forever. That covers roughly the first act of the story and revealing more would be unfair.

It’s impossible to watch the movie from that point on without comparing it to Stanley Kurbrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The narrative is similarly episodic and it also shares images, ideas, themes, characters, and even plot points with that immortal classic. However, Nolan isn’t aiming for a movie that’s nearly as mysteriously philosophical. Nope, he’s aiming for a big sweeping popcorn epic that will challenge brains without leaving anyone behind. This is hard science fiction with dialogue frequently used purely as a means of simplifying complex theories. These theories are explained and re-explained to the audience to the point of exhaustion at times, with the actors thanklessly spouting speeches they could never even hope to make sound natural. Another clear point of comparison is The Abyss, which tried to mix hard science with big action and soft heart sentimentalism. That’s a combination that feels equally awkward here. There are sequences when all of Nolan’s tricks and ideas mix together beautifully. Timelines as cross cut to mix together multiple climaxes that combine stunning images, visceral action, stinging emotion, brain-busting ideas, and ear-tingling music simultaneously in a manner that will thrust you so deep into your seat that you’ll devolve into a pile of goo. Had Nolan managed to make a version of Interstellar that lived up to its tremendous peaks throughout, it would have been a masterpiece riding the line between popcorn pleasure and art house reverence. You can see what he was going for and the experiment was worth it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite get there. Not by a long shot.

No matter how many stunning moments that Nolan puts together here, there’s just no denying that Interstellar is kind of a mess. It’s a supremely ambitious project with too many spinning wheels for him to align them all. When the movie isn’t working, it can be accidentally comedic because Nolan’s distinctly dour tone leaves no room for irony. It’s got some of the finest movie moments of the year and some of the worst, but thankfully the good at least outweighs the bad. If nothing else, the near limitless resources at the director’s disposal leads to some astoundingly large spectacle that is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Seen in IMAX, many of these sequences simply have to be viewed in a state of open-mouthed awe. There’s no other way to respond. That demands to be seen on the largest screen possible (even though Nolan must have been cringing through Gravity last year given that Alfonso Cuaron managed to beat him to many effects in a much more accessible and powerful production).

As for everything that goes wrong, well the degree to which that ruins the movie comes down to expectations. If you’re a movie nitpicker for whom any flaw will spoil the whole project, then chances are this will be unbearable. However, if you’re capable of appreciating flawed movies for their strengths then there is much to love. Think of it this way: What Inception was to The Dark Knight, Interstellar is to The Dark Knight Rises. It’s Nolan operating on the same oversized ambition as his Batman threequel and hitting n’ missing to the same degree, just in a more personal project. In a perfect world, Nolan could take years to develop projects like Kubrick and ensure that puzzle box stories all click into place (as well as hire someone who can write dialogue, etc.). Unfortunately the blockbuster business is more dependent on meeting release dates than perfection and Interstellar was clearly shoved into production with a script about a draft or two away from completion. There’s still plenty to love, you just have to find a way to deal with the hate.