|A Stroll Down Memory Lane
Guy Pearce looks for answers,
one anguished moment at a time
in a stunning new thriller
Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla
(Click on the images to see larger versions and credits.)
There is a yardstick I use with thrillers. The simpler they are, the better they work, but when it comes to plot twists, the bigger, the better.
"Memento," directed by newcomer Christopher Nolan (who is bound to be getting a lot of messages on his answering machines from major studios just about now) has a plot device stunning in its simplicity. Leonard Shelby ("L.A. Confidential's" Guy Pearce) is unable to make new memories. He forgets where he is, what he's doing, even what he just said a few minutes ago. It just fades away, like an Etch-a-Sketch on a pressure cooker.
However, his long-term memories are intact. He knows that in his previous life, he was a successful insurance investigator. He also knows that his wife was raped and murdered by someone he knows only as "John G." However, in the attack on his wife, Leonard was smacked hard enough on the head to give him brain damage.
Leonard was able to shoot and kill the assailant of his wife. However, his injury happened after the shot was fired; therefore, there was a second person involved in the attack. However, the police don't believe a brain-damaged man, and don't think John G., whoever he was, was clever enough to erase all traces of his presence.
So Leonard is searching, but in a particularly smart bit of moviemaking, the story is told backwards, following Leonard's torturous trek. He is assisted by Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), two people who may or may not be trustworthy. As the story unfolds, we become as Leonard, lacking in critical information that explains the motivations of the characters involved. This movie would never work as well with a traditional linear storyline. It's a gutsy move by Nolan, and it pays off.
I'm deliberately keeping plot details to a minimum. Because of the nature of the story, it's best not to reveal too much. This is one of the smartest movies I've been to in a while; it requires the viewer to pay attention, and it requires the viewer to think. In other words, if you're looking for brainless summer fare, it's best to head on to another door in the multiplex.
Pearce gives a low-key performance as Leonard. He hasn't really followed up his jaw-grinding performance in "L.A. Confidential" with anything noteworthy (don't get me started on "Ravenous" or his phoned-in work on "Rules of Engagement"), finally makes a movie worthy of his talents. Moss, so awesome in "The Matrix," is terrific again here in a role very different from Trinity.
Nolan is someone to keep an eye on. In many ways, this movie has the same kind of risk-taking that M. Night Shyalaman showed in "The Sixth Sense." It's that good, certainly one that will be appearing on a lot of year-end best lists. The final twist at the end is not the kind that will blow you right out of your seat, but it elegantly fits in with the various twists and turns the story has been taking throughout.
If Alfred Hitchcock were alive today, this is the kind of movie he would be making. Higher praise for a movie I cannot sing.
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See cast, credit and other details about "Memento" at Internet Movie Data Base.