Christopher Nolan has cemented himself as one of Hollywood's go-to directors. Anyone who makes such high quality finished products -- a true movie experience -- is okay in my book. Just his second movie directing, 2000's Memento is similarly one held in high regard by fans and critics alike.
Staying at a cheap motel, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is looking for the man who raped and murdered his wife. The clues have built up as he tracked him down, and now he seemingly is closer than ever to finding him. Leonard has a problem though, he sustained a head injury by his wife's killer and because of the incident has short term memory loss. He can remember everything that happened before the murder, but everything since? He can't create new memories. How then can he manage to track down the killer? Everything is difficult for him from finding his car to remembering which hotel room he's staying in.
Crazy ridiculous innovative and unique storytelling technique. Like nothing I've seen before. Nolan tells this story backwards, showing the ending at the beginning. Trippy, huh? As one reviewer pointed out, it takes a premise from a classic Seinfeld episode, but that's another story. Leonard's short-term memory loss allows for this technique to work. He remembers only what is in front of his face, constantly writing down notes and even tattooing his body to remind himself of major clues about the killer. So what we remember is obviously more detailed than Leonard, especially as more people get involved with the murder we see in the opening five minutes. One scene following another explains what we've just seen while adding another layer. It's something else to behold in one of the more original premises I've ever seen for telling a story.
Nolan helps pull this off through two techniques, albeit not simple ones. Starters, a flashback of sorts, Leonard sitting in his motel room on the phone, explaining his routine to help him "remember." He's also on the phone with someone -- who? We don't know -- telling about his pre-accident life as a husband and insurance investigator. He worked a case with a husband and wife (a great Stephen Tobolowsky and Harriet Sansom Harris) who went through something similar to Leonard's current situation. Then there's the present-time story (relatively present time) as we move backwards through the investigation. Each little flashback breaks up Leonard's actions, serving as almost a default start over button. He starts over each flashback, clean slate for the memory.
With this sort of storytelling technique or anything so unique in movies, the acting can get lost in the shuffle. Important but far from essential, a performance has to be more workmanlike. Pearce does more than that though playing the memory-challenged Leonard. It's something else how he brings this character to life, both equal parts confidence with a complete helplessness to the world around him. Think how easy it would be to mess with someone with no short term memory, and that person would have no idea in about 2 minutes. Pearce keeps the story grounded as we root for him to find his wife's killer. Without revealing any of the twists, I can't say much about the cast, but both Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano are equally as good in key supporting parts.
Innovative storytelling technique. Check. Interesting characters with solid performances. Check. Even throw in an eerie, moving score from composer David Julyan, which you can listen to HERE. All those positives were there, but I just didn't love the movie. Going ending to beginning was something I've never seen before in a movie, but the gimmick -- for lack of a better word -- didn't sustain the whole movie for me. Finding out more isn't necessarily as interesting as I thought it would be. It even gets tedious at times. The end of the movie (actually the beginning of the story) does deliver a punch, but even that feels like it's missing something. The movie is still something any movie buff should see, and I'm recommending it, but not as much as I would have liked.
Memento <---trailer (2000): ** 1/2 /****