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New Escapist Column! On Kat as the Emotional Heart of “TENET”…

I published a new piece at The Escapist on Sunday. With the release of TENET, Christopher Nolan has been subject to the familiar criticisms of his work: that he is humourless, cold, emotionless. However, these criticisms miss the fact that Nolan’s films are often underpinned by deep reservoirs of emotion.

Elizabeth Debicki’s Katherine Barton is the beating heart of TENET. She also represents a clear evolution of how Nolan writes female characters. If TENET is a James Bond pastiche, than Kat is introduced as a disposable love interest – the character that the hero seduces to get closer to the villain, and is ultimately killed for her betrayal. She is also positioned in Nolan’s filmography so as to suggest one of Nolan’s “dead wives.”

However, as the film progresses, Kat becomes the emotional protagonist of TENET. It is her story that drives TENET. More than that, she assumes the narrative space that is usually reserved for Nolan’s male protagonists like Cooper in Interstellar and Cobb in Inception: that of a parent fighting desperately to be reunited with their lost children. As such, Kat is a fascinating character in Nolan’s filmography, both a deconstruction of the way that Nolan writes his women characters and a clear step forward.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: TENET

NOTE: I live in Ireland. Our cinemas are open. Evidence suggests that it is (relatively) safe for people to attend the cinema if they take the necessary precautions. However, I am aware that it is not safe in every country to do so, and I also understand that many readers may not feel safe attending their local cinema even in areas where the evidence suggests it is safe. As this seems to be a hot-button issue with all theatrical releases during the pandemic – but with TENET in particular – it feels important to stress this outside the body of the review itself.

This should go without saying, but given the nature of the current pandemic it is worth repeating: No movie is worth risking your life for. If you feel – or if information from sources you trust suggest – that it is unsafe to go to the cinema, then please do not go. I loved this film. I will see it in cinemas again at least twice within the next week, because it is safe for me to do so. This review should not be taken as an endorsement that the reader should feel they have to (or are expected to) risk their lives to see this film. With that in mind, here is the review.

“Time isn’t the problem,” insists Neil early in TENET. Like a lot of things that the shady operator says over the course of the film, this is not exactly true.

There is a lot riding on TENET. Almost none of this was intended when the film was conceived and produced. As the first major theatrical release since the coronavirus pandemic, TENET effectively shoulders the burden of saving cinema – particularly with a death of major releases between now and Wonder Woman 1984 and with the planned release of Mulan on Disney+. It’s a lot of weight for a film like TENET to carry. Time will tell whether it can succeed or not, but it makes a valiant effort.

Shattering the release window.

TENET rises to this challenge in a couple of ways. Most obviously, TENET is quite simply a triumph of blockbuster filmmaking. Director Christopher Nolan has boasted about how much of the film was completed using in-camera effects and how carefully choreographed it all was. TENET is a movie that showcases the power of spectacle, whether in its delightfully complicated action sequences or even in Hoyte Van Hoytema’s breathtaking establishing shots. TENET is a movie that demands as big a screen as possible, reminding audiences of the scale of such filmmaking.

However, there’s more to it than that. TENET is a film that feels curiously attuned to this cultural moment. It is a film that deals with many of Nolan’s pet themes and obsessions, but in a way that feels very much in step with the modern moment. It’s hard to summarise TENET without spoiling the movie, without revealing too much in terms of plot mechanics or character motivations, but TENET is a film about the breakdown of time itself. It is a film about the collapse of chaos and effect, and a world in which the future and the past are a war over the present.

A career highlight?

It’s an ambitious film. Nolan’s movies are frequently driven by high-concepts and abstract ideas, and the director is remarkable in his ability to build crowd-pleasing blockbusters around concepts like time dilation in Inception and the theory of relativity in Interstellar. If anything, TENET seems to push that idea to breaking time. As Neil repeatedly points out over the course of the film, he has a degree in quantum physics and he struggles to make sense of the film’s internal logic. Perhaps the film’s protagonist (known simply as the Protagonist) sums it up best, “Woah.”

TENET is an interesting film from Nolan in a number of ways. The villainous Russian oligarch Andrei Sator is probably the director’s scuzziest character since Insomnia or Memento. The film itself is perhaps Nolan’s most emotionally repressed since The Prestige. These sensibilities are blended with his more modern high-concept blockbuster aesthetic, and flavoured with a surprising amount of self-awareness. The result is a heady cocktail that is occasionally overwhelming, but never unsatisfying.

Well, masks are recommended at cinema screenings.

Note: Warner Brothers have specifically requested that reviews avoid spoilers. As a result, this review will talk rather generally about TENET. However, if you want to see it completely unspoiled, it is perhaps best to just take our word for it: it is good. It is probably even the best film we’ve seen this year. That is a very short review.

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Non-Review Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has style and charm. It doesn’t have much more than that, but never underestimate how far style and charm can get you. Guy Ritchie has always had a nice a sense of movement, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. always moves at a nice pace, even when it’s not entirely sure where it is going. A film so light that it threatens to get caught in the gust as it breezes by, it is also important never to overestimate how far style and charm can get you either.

Ride along...

Ride along…

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Non-Review Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great Gatsby feels like candy floss for the soul. A little of it is tempting, even appetizing. It was a curious texture, a strange sense of lightness, but also curiously heavy. Appealing to look at, and fun to pick at, it’s not something to be digested in large portions. The opening fifteen minutes of The Great Gatsby pop and sizzle, as Luhrman blends stylish visuals with an inability to keep anything still. The cameras, the actors and even the scenery seem to be moving to a beat – one occasionally intruding on the sound track. Such energy and vibrance is hard to resist, but it’s also exhausting – as much for the film as the audience. Once the movie settles into its own style and routine, it winds up feeling a lot like its protagonist. You’re not quite sure it’s really there.

thegreatgatsby2

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