What's Bigger Than an Event Film? 'Tenet' Might Just Be

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 6, 2020 | Go to article overview

What's Bigger Than an Event Film? 'Tenet' Might Just Be


Byline: Lindsey Bahr Associated Press

Christopher Nolan movies are always events.

Larger-than-life, action-packed, ideas-driven and (mostly) original, they're created to be big-screen spectacles that awe mass audiences and drive hefty returns. For Nolan to say that his latest, "Tenet," a palindromic global spy thriller starring John David Washington, is his most ambitious is no small thing. Add the fact that it's the first major Hollywood film in the COVID-era to open in U.S. cinemas in almost six months and you can understand why even "event film" feels too small for "Tenet."

In the best of times releasing a film is exciting and tense. But now?

"This is a very heightened experience for all of us," Nolan said.

It is a film that has been brewing in Nolan's mind, in some ways, for decades. It started with an image of a bullet being sucked back into the gun. He toyed with the symbolic concept in "Memento," but always wanted to make it more concrete. Over the next 20 years, Nolan and his producer and wife, Emma Thomas, would see their films amass nearly $4.8 billion at the box office. And with each new one, they challenged themselves to go further.

With a starry ensemble including Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh and, naturally, Michael Caine, "Tenet" takes audiences to Tallinn, Estonia, Italy's Amalfi Coast, England, Oslo, Denmark, Mumbai and Southern California's Mojave Desert as Washington's character, The Protagonist, tries to save the world. Seven international locations is a massive undertaking for any film, but in each one there was a big action set piece to accomplish.

"I think back to where we were even 10 years ago and one or two of the set pieces in Tenet' could have probably been the climax of one of those earlier movies," Thomas laughed.

To give a sense of its scale, consider the 747 jumbo jet crash sequence. Everyone assumed at the beginning that the grandiose concept would be accomplished with computer graphics and miniatures.

"But as we looked into it, the team became convinced that the most efficient way to do it, even from a financial point of view, the sensible way to do it was to buy a 747 and crash it," Nolan said. "It sounds bizarre to say sensible, but it actually wound up getting us what we wanted on screen at a reasonable cost."

There is very little CG in the film at all, which Nolan is particularly proud of. His cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema would often hoist the massive IMAX camera on his shoulder and shoot the actors and stunt performers, including Washington and Pattinson bungee-jumping up the side of a building in Mumbai.

Part of the reason Nolan can push the action is that he relies on teams he's used before. For the water sequences, Nolan called on a marine unit he used in "Dunkirk." For the car chases, he brought back the man who flipped the Joker truck in "The Dark Knight. …

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