It's a Revelation
You have to say that in recent years Christopher Nolan has written and directed some fantastic movies, they capture your attention with their lavish productions, exceptional pacing and storyline. But what they also have is a sense of ingenuity about them with storylines which aren't just your average action flick, they twist and turn and make you think, concentrating on what is happening as much as being entertained by what you watch. One such movie is "Memento" which isn't the big lavish experience of say "Inception" but has an ingenuity about it which draws you in to the unravelling story. It is the intelligence of it which makes "Memento" not only fascinating but also great, but the irony of it is that when you think about it "Memento" is not that much different to any crime movie.
The last thing that Leonard (Guy Pearce - The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) can remember is the murder of his wife and his accident, but since then he's not been able to make any new short term memories. It makes life hard for him, not only to try and live when you can't remember what happened a couple of minutes ago but also in his endeavour to track down his wife's killer. And it also means that he has to be careful who he can trust as they maybe trying to manipulate him for their own gains. But Leonard is determined to get the killer and has found a system to make sense of his life but who can he trust.
Like so many crime thrillers "Memento" starts at a certain point, we watch as Leonard Shelby appears to shoot Teddy Gammell and then it jumps back. Now a lot of crime thrillers do this they start at the end then jump back to the start and build the story to that point so you know what happens and you learn why. What Nolan does different is that he jumps back one scene and you watch that then he jumps back another so you get this crime and story piece by piece in reverse, one revelation at a time. Sounds a strange idea but it works so well because after each scene you are wondering how it got to that point, how comes in one scene Leonard ends up in a hotel room with a hooker in the bathroom and in fact how it all began. Ironically it means that the only major difference between "Memento" and many other crime thrillers is the way it retells the story but it works brilliantly causing you to try and work out how you get to every single point.
I say that's the only difference but in fact the actual storyline has a feel of originality as we discover that following his wife's murder and his accident Leonard has not been unable to make new memories. On one level you have this fascination of how Leonard manages to live when he can't remember something he did just two minutes a go and we become intrigued by all the notes he writes himself, the Polaroid's he carries and the messages tattooed across his body. And with each of these notes, messages and pictures we wonder how they come to be, how comes he has a photo of his friend Teddy with "don't trust him" written on it.
But then this element is also amusing as we watch Leonard struggle to remember people, repeatedly telling them about his condition. It's not cruelly amusing but delivers those perfectly timed lighter moments to stop "Memento" from being too serious.
And to add to the intrigue you have this subplot about Sammy Jankis a man who we learn also suffered from the inability to make new memories. It's just as fascinating watching Leonard trying to live his life but adds a certain amount of ambiguity to the storyline. To put it simply "Memento" is a movie which sets out to intrigue and does it on so many different levels and is aided by some fantastic styling going from black and white to colour to delimit different elements.
With such a fascinating movie it needs good performances to deliver it and in the trio of Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano certainly achieve this. Moss and Pantoliano add a great sense of mystery as Natalie and Teddy, the two people who seem to have the greatest influence of how Leonard lives his life. And through the writing of the characters and their performances there is a sense of ambiguity about them as if nothing is as simple as it first seems.
But it is Guy Pearce as Leonard who really delivers the knock out performance as he is so believable as a man who has the memory of a goldfish. You watch how Leonard struggles to live, waking up not knowing where he is or how he got there, not knowing the guy at the desk at the motel. It's because Pearce is so convincing that you never question anything and accept that here is a man who wants revenge for the murder of his wife but struggles to solve the mystery of who the killer is.
What this all boils down to is that "Memento" is a fascinating and clever movie. Ironically the basis of the movie, the crime and revenge is not that different to any other crime thriller but it is in the delivery, the revelation after revelation in reverse which makes it so brilliant. And whilst it's all very stylish there are no huge effects to wow you just this clever story and a clever way of delivering it and yet it wows you by being simply clever.