MEMENTO (2001) 

[Get the Poster]

Guy Pearce
Carrie-Anne Moss
Joe Pantoliano
Mark Boone Junior
Stephen Tobolowsky
Harriet Sanson Harris
Jorja Fox

Christopher Nolan



Time: 113 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Thrille/Mystery/Drama

Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing.

I have to say that I haven't been so intrigued by a movie trailer, as MEMENTO's, in a very long time. I had never heard of the film before that and it made me seek out this limited release. For once, the trailer gave very little away, though after seeing the film I can understand why. This is not your normal, everyday venture to the cineplex. Christopher Nolan and his vastly talented cast manage to make this strange, quirky mystery into an amazingly hypnotizing thriller. The film rests entirely on the strong and very capable shoulders of Aussie Guy Pearce, a man I believe is destined to be as big a household name as his countryman Mr. Crowe with whom he co-starred in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. Never has an actor with such leading man looks created so many different characters, disappearing so completely into each of them. He does a bang up job here as a man with no short term memory on a mission to avenge his wife's rape and murder. I know, it sounds like a skit from SNL and it could have been terribly silly and unbelievable if it weren't for the amazing script and brilliant direction.

Since Leonard (Pearce) can't make new memories, in order to explain how he figured out the crime, the story is told backwards. Beginning with the revenge killing of John G., the man he believes is responsible for his wife's death and his condition, and ending with how he started on his manhunt. It takes some getting used to, but is very effective. Each sequence begins and ends with the same scene, then proceeds to show the audience how Leonard got there. Every sequence illuminates a different part of the puzzle, revealing secrets, half-truths and sometimes information that Leonard no longer has because it's faded away. Basically, if he talks to the same person too long, he'll forget how they started. He knows everything about his life up to that fateful night, but now is forced to take polaroids of the people he meets and make notes about them so he can understand what's going on. The information he really needs, he's had tattooed permanently all over his body. It may sound confusing and at points it is, but like the THE SIXTH SENSE, MEMENTO is so intriguing you're practically begging for the film to go faster, to see how it ends...or, in this case, begins.

Leonard is obssessed with his wife because he's unable to move on. His condition does not enable him to feel the passage of time, so how can he grieve? He has no idea how long it's been since she was murdered. Currently living at a sleazy motel, he's made two new friends, Teddy (Pantoliano) and Natalie (Moss), both of whom are manipulating him for their own ends. He befriends Natalie after she is beaten up by her missing boyfriend's boss, who happens to be a drug dealer. She claims to be helping him because they have something in common – they've both lost someone they love. She tells him that Teddy is no-good and that everything he says is a lie. Teddy is a cop, but that's about the only thing to come out of Natalie's mouth that is true about him. Teddy seems to genuinely like Leonard and helps him get out of several tight spots, but his intentions don't exactly seem honorable. For his part, Leonard does the best he can with the information he discovers, but he's basically a puppet doomed to live out the rest of his life as a slave to others manipulations. Even if he does find John G. and delivers his own brand of justice, how will he know? It's not like he'll remember. Of course, that's exactly his hope. That if he kills John G., he'll be cured.

"How can I heal? How am I supposed to heal if I can't feel time?"

What's revealed at the end will keep your mind reeling for days at the possible conclusions. Did he catch the right guy? Is what Teddy told him the truth or more lies to keep Leonard on Teddy's side? Is Leonard manipulating his own memories so he can live with himself and give meaning to his life? So many unanswered questions. One thing we do learn for sure – though hampered by his condition, Leonard is no one to be trifled with. MEMENTO may be a complicated mystery/thriller, but it also has some darkly comic moments, which help to break up the tension. Sometimes the situations Leonard finds himself in are more than a little unusual and one can't help but laugh. Pearce gives the performance of his career as the hampered Leonard. He doesn't have much of a character arc, you can't grow and change if you never learn anything new about yourself, however, that doesn't stop him from peeling away the layers of Leonard, revealing pieces of his personality a little bit at a time. It can't have been an easy part to play, but it's sure the most interesting one I've seen in a long time. The great thing about Leonard is that he'll always be a generally nice guy, because he can't remember any of the horrible things that he's done.

The acting triumvirate is completed by Pantoliano and Moss, who both starred in THE MATRIX and reteam here, giving equally impressive performances. I've been a fan of Pantoliano's since he played Snake in RUNNING SCARED and always enjoy his work. It must be hard always playing the bad guy, but at least he's working and those characters are usually the more interesting ones anyway. Teddy is certainly one of his better roles and Pantoliano gives him everything he's got. I'm still not sure if I think Teddy deserves what befalls him, but he's certainly not blameless. Moss became famous from her part in THE MATRIX, but this role proves that wasn't a fluke. Her talent was wasted in CHOCOLAT, as was most of the actors involved in that over-hyped trifle. In MEMENTO, she gets to stretch her wings and create a very complex character, who changes from one scene to the next. Natalie definitely has the most obvious arc to her character and Moss plays it beautifully.

As for the look and feel of the film, it made me think of M. Night Shyamalan's style in both SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE. You know it's present day, but it seems like a whole different world. Nolan has an amazing eye and for a first-time director this is an impressive, stylistic piece of work. He's definitely someone who's career I'll follow closely. I can only hope he continues to create such unique films. What makes this film work as well as it does is the editing and obvious attention to detail. I can't believe they actually were able to keep everything straight. The fact that Pierce wears only one outfit for the whole movie was a great help I'm sure. Because the plot is so complicated and revealed backwards, I did grow weary towards the end of the film. It goes on a little longer than it needed to and could have been about 10 minutes shorter. There's so much information being revealed, like Leonard, you begin to forget what happened earlier, which causes some frustration by the end. Maybe they did it so you'd feel more in tune with his problem.

If you're tired of the usual studio garbage and want to experience a movie that really uses the medium to it's full advantage, telling an intelligent and intriguing story with great acting to boot, than MEMENTO is one you've got to watch. This is definitely something you've never seen before.

home | reviews | actors | actresses | film heaven | all reviews