Shot by Shot with the 'Tenet' Trailer

While John David Washington fights the future, Christopher Nolan fights for the theatrical experience.

Screen Shot At Am

Welcome to Shot by Shot, our ongoing series of breakdowns. We’re constantly scouring movie trailers for perfect shots. In this column, we share our favorites and discuss them.


All our hopes and dreams rest with Tenet. Coming. To. Theaters.

With the pandemic rearranging and shuffling summer movies, Christopher Nolan‘s latest film found itself in the unenviable position of being not just the start of our favorite movie season, but the start of all forms of entertainment anticipation. Tenet represents the kick-off of the good times we’re all so desperately craving, and as such, many of us spent the last twenty-four hours wrapping our knuckles on our desks. Waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting for the trailer to drop.

Well, never fear, the Tenet trailer is here, and with it, the future doesn’t look as scary as it once did. The movie is almost upon us. We have something to look forward to consuming. Thank the maker! I mean, Christopher Nolan.

As Nolan loves to do, he’s been playing this flick close to his chest. Details so far have been few and far between. Deciphering a snippet here and a snippet there is challenging, but also deeply compelling. Such mischievous teasing is what we live for when it comes to Nolan, especially when he’s frolicking in science fiction arenas like Inception, Interstellar, and now, Tenet.

The trailer offers more information on the plot of Tenet than we’ve gotten so far, but it still requires some thought and guess-work. Our Shot by Shot breakdowns feel specially designed for such endeavors. We need to spend our time with Nolan trailers. They demand attention. So, without further ado, let’s dig into the delectable spread Nolan has prepared.


Screen Shot At Am

Martin Donovan meets John David Washington on a boat. “All I have for you is a word,” he says. “Tenet. It will open the right doors and some of the wrong ones, too. Use it carefully.”

Who are these people? What are their names? Christopher Nolan ain’t saying. Their monikers matter little at this stage. What they do is all that counts.

Washington meets some stern-looking thugs in a kitchen. They go to work on him. He goes to work right back.


Screen Shot At Am

Washington meets Clémence Poésy in a long corridor of drawers. He’s happy to fight the good fight for planet earth, but to take on our cause, he at least has to have some understanding of what the threat actually is. Poésy offers the red pill, and once Washington takes it, he’ll never look at life the same way.

She tells him, “As I understand it, we’re trying to prevent World War III.” Do you mean Armageddon? “No, something worse.”

He looks over the cogs and various mechanical trinkets in the drawer. One gizmo jumps into his gloved hand. Did it levitate, or did he drop it (from the future)?


Screen Shot At Am

You can’t have a Christopher Nolan film without Michael Caine. A few years back, the actor thought he was quits, but he keeps finding movies, or filmmakers, to drag him back in. Basically, he’s Al Pacino from The Godfather Part III. I would not expect a large role from Caine. He’s here to class up the joint and act as the go-between for Washington and Russian National baddie Kenneth Branagh.


Screen Shot At Am

As Branagh confronts Elizabeth Debicki in a cold, gray bunker with a goon in the background and a tableful of rifles, we gather a few more bits of crucial plot information: “He can communicate with the future.” Immediately, I get flashes of the Observers from Fringe. They were a group of nasty peeping toms who traveled back in time to correct our climate changing behaviors. Good on them, but did they have to be so violent about it?

Branagh’s Russian character appears to believe in necessary evil. He is using technology from his future to get what he needs from our past. Washington is meant to stand between him and his goals, which will result in something worse than an apocalypse. As we’ve seen in previous timey-wimey endeavors, when time is bent, it can easily break, resulting in the blinking out of existence.


Screen Shot At Am

But this is not a simple time-travel movie. It’s “inversion.” Think of it as a localized expedition in time, where certain events contained in one moment are backpedaled. There’s no traveling. A person merely steps into a bubble where actions reverse.

Back in Poésy’s lab, Washington continues to receive revelations straight out of The Matrix. She hands him a gun. She instructs him, “Aim it and pull the trigger.” As he thinks it, the bullet hole in the concrete slab refills and the projectile flies back into the pistol. “You’re not shooting the bullet; you’re catching it.” Washington goes full Keanu, “Whoa.”


Screen Shot At Am

Branagh’s goons strap Washington and another poor sap to chairs trapped between two train tracks. Branagh narrates, “This is where our worlds collide.” At some point, the past must catch up to the present and then the future. Branagh seems to be on a timeclock. Washington can indeed spoil his plans if Branagh is not careful.

The question is whether or not Branagh will step straight into Bond villain role and reveal too much while he has Washington pinned. Oh, he absolutely will. Nolan loves his Bond tropes.


Screen Shot At Am

Here’s a scene straight out of Casino Royale. How would you like to die, Mr. Bond? Washington is not here to play his games. He retorts comically cool, “Old.” Branagh responds equally crispy, “You chose the wrong profession.”


Screen Shot At Am

Washington is fighting for the past, present, and future. The war may be cold, but it is definitely grand. Nolan does not do small action. As Washington stumbles into violence-in-reverse, we’re being given masterful, in-camera stunts designed to take our breath away as they blare down upon us from the biggest screen possible.

We do not go to Nolan movies for CGI wizardry. We go to watch Washington pass between two speeding cars that are most certainly there and are most certainly speeding. These are sequences you watch through squinted eyes and gritted teeth. Hearts are meant to stop while Nolan is at work.


Screen Shot At Am

As a final reiteration of such physicality, Robert Pattinson explains to Washington that he desires to crash a plane. Nothing as dramatic as what Bane did in The Dark Knight Rises. No, he only wishes to cause a ruckus on the ground. Washington asks, “Well, how big of a plane?”


Screen Shot At Am

“That part is a little dramatic,” Pattinson admits. The Tenet trailer closes with a god damn massive whale of a passenger plane colliding into an airport hanger and erupting into flames. Again, no obvious CGI here. That’s practical, baby.


Screen Shot At Am

Finally, while the trailer does not slap a specific release date on Tenet, it does promise that the only way you’re going to see the film first is in the theaters. Washington may be fighting for the future, but so is Nolan. He’s out here battling streaming services tooth-and-nail. Cinema is cinema dammit. Big and beautiful.


Tenet is currently scheduled to hit theaters on July 17th.

Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.

Freestar Publisher Operations by Freestar. Report an ad