Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
United Kingdom/USA, 2020. Syncopy, Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Christopher Nolan. Cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema. Produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas. Music by Ludwig Göransson. Production Design by Nathan Crowley. Costume Design by Jeffrey Kurland. Film Editing by Jennifer Lame. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2020. Online Film Critics Awards 2020. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2020. Washington Film Critics Awards 2020.
John David Washington plays a CIA operative whose experience in the siege of a Kiev Opera House to retrieve a plutonium payload goes poorly and almost gets him killed. After waking from a coma, he is told that his loyalty has been successfully tested and he is given the assignment that all spies dream of: saving the world from annihilation! Christopher Nolan, the beloved auteur who dares to force mainstream audiences to think while indulgence their desire for escapism, fashions the kind of James Bond adventure that would have resulted if Schopenhauer and John Donne were assigned to the screenplay (by a micromanaging studio executive, of course), a mindbender that, unlike his simplistic but flashy Inception, actually bends the mind and, unlike the purely theoretical and dramatically inert Interstellar, actually provides exciting action sequences between all the endless time travel jargon. From the moment Washington, code-named “The Protagonist”, is told what he needs to investigate, the stakes are greatly elevated: a new form of weaponry seems to exist on its own inverted temporal plane, guns that receive bullets instead of shooting them and react to events that have yet to happen. Their source is a weapons manufacturer who has made them in the future and is sending them back through time, and Washington is to find out who is controlling their sale and distribution in the present day. The route to the truth hooks him up with British Intelligence Officer Robert Pattinson as they first interrogate an Indian metals tycoon (a brilliant performance by Dimple Kapadia) before discovering that the supervillain who might take us to the end of the world is Russian arms dealer Kenneth Branagh. Washington gets in with Branagh by offering to steal plutonium for him and at the same time gets close to his entrapped wife (Elizabeth Debicki), working a con on one while hoping to release the other from the bad guy’s clutches, but doing so is going to involve literally working against the clock. The circular, often confusing plot kicks into high gear in the last third and shows a shameless Nolan getting too excited about his science homework, overindulging in a loud and lengthy climax, but films that enjoy such high-concept gimmickry are usually given much lower-grade execution than this is and the film always feels exciting and engaging even at its least comprehensible. The imagery is a pleasure to the eye, the cast deliver sturdy performances (even Branagh’s Boris and Natasha accent feels important, and I love how Russian bad guys are the only ones we allow to sneer pompously while wearing flip-flops), and the characters always feel as carefully placed on the screen as the twists of the plot.