The first time John David Washington’s assured and collected The Protagonist meets the floppy haired Neil (Robert Pattinson) in Tenet, it’s at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club. He needs someone to introduce him to a weapons dealer, the first of many, increasingly elaborate wild goose chases he goes on to prevent a war in the future from destroying the present. These life-or-death stakes dictate how the conversation begins — Neil is confident of securing entry into the dealer’s house, not of making it out alive — but soon, an undercurrent of flirtatiousness creeps in. Neil signals a passing waiter, orders himself a vodka tonic, and then, without asking, a diet coke for The Protagonist, who attributes the accuracy of his order to Neil being well-informed. The stranger is, after all, is as mysterious a figure as he is, in an equally secretive line of work. Caught off guard and unwilling to let him know he has the upper hand, The Protagonist says he prefers soda water. “No you don’t,” Neil chuckles.
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