Recall of the wild
"Memento," the fiercely imaginative, reverse-chronological story of a man with a mission but no short-term memory, is a stunning modern film noir that plays havoc with the senses.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
I went into "Memento" knowing only three things about it: 1. it's about a guy (played by Guy Pearce) who suffers from short-term memory loss; 2. it co-stars Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano (both from "The Matrix"); and 3. it's received some pretty good press. But that's all I knew. In many ways this is already too much information since the less you know about the film going in the more likely you are to enjoy it. For reasons that are hard to explain, I had an innate sense that this film was going to be good very good, in fact so I avoided reading anything about it beforehand. That proved to my advantage. For you to be at a similar advantage, stop reading this review now, go and see the film (and don't talk to anyone who's seen it before you do), then come back and finish reading from where you left off.
"Memento," a crisp, stylish film noir that plays havoc with the senses (if anything, it's more a physiological than a psychological thriller), is written and directed by Christopher Nolan (this is only his second feature). Its storyline concerns an insurance investigator, Leonard Shelby (Pearce), who suffers from chronic loss of memory. He cannot remember much of anything, cannot create new memories, can't remember someone he was introduced to moments before he has to rely on prolific note-taking, body tattoos, and Polaroids to keep track of who he is, and what he's doing. What he's doing is trying to find the man who raped and murdered his wife. Again, it's unfortunate knowing that particular piece of information beforehand since the way this plot detail is revealed in the film, for example, is extremely powerful.
|Directed by: Christopher Nolan.|
Written by: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan.
Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Junior, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jorja Fox, Harriet Sansom Harris, Callum Keith Rennie, Larry Holden, Russ Fega, Thomas Lennon, Kimberly Campbell, Marianne Muellerleile.
Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
So Nolan centers his intelligent, fine-looking film around this man with a mission. Leonard's investigation itself is complex and intricate. Then we have his condition, which adds to the complexity and intricacy of the narrative. These two elements make the film extremely engaging, but Nolan doesn't stop there. Perhaps the most intriguing component of the film is the way in which it's put together. Events happen not chronologically, but backwards in time. Nolan's film isn't the first to do this, of course. "Betrayal" (from 1983) documents, from a cuckolded husband's point of view, an extramarital affair in reverse chronological order. And Quentin Tarantino's masterful "Pulp Fiction" plays around with continuity like no other contemporary piece of filmmaking. In Memento, this rarely attempted cinematic technique seems less like a plot device and more an integral part of the film's framework, working superbly in context given the medical condition of its lead Leonard is always backtracking, checking his notes, trying to remember things; it's the perfect combination of substance and style.|
In that regard, "Memento" excels on every imaginable level. The writing is sophisticated clever one minute, funny the next, gut-wrenching thereafter; the acting (by Moss, Pantoliano, and above all Pearce) is sublime; and the direction is brave and intellectually stimulating.
If you've heard anything about this film you've probably heard how good it is and of that you can be assured. "Memento" is quite simply the best film of the year. It's the smartest noir thriller since "The Last Seduction," the most brilliantly structured film since "Timecode," and the most mesmerizing mystery story I can remember seeing in a long, long time.
|APRIL 2, 2001|
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