Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Stephen Toblowsky
Director: Christopher Nolan
Guy Pearce is now a far cry from being speedo wearing Mike, in the Australian TV soap, Neighbours where he spent 4 years until 1990. After huge success in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and “LA Confidential” on the big screen, the confident Aussie turns up in yet another non-mainstream flick, “Memento”.
Pearce plays Leonard, an afflicted young man on the search for his wife’s murderer. Unfortunately his affliction is a huge handicap – he suffers from short term memory loss, and is unable to create new memories therefore only having recollections for a few minutes at a time. He can get to the end of a conversation and forget how it started. To help himself, he relies on scribbled notes, a selection of polaroids and a series of tattoos which record the most important information to help him move his investigation on.
He is assisted by Teddy (Pantoliano – “The Matrix”, “Bound”, “US Marshals”, “The Fugitive”) and Natalie (Moss – “The Matrix”) whom Leonard must re-discover every time he meets them. But nothing is as it seems, and as the story unfolds, we discover more about Teddy and Natalie, and their possible alternative reasons for helping Leonard.
And that’s where the film comes into it’s own. In a unique and intriguing manner, the movie opens up at the end of the story and rewinds using a series of short scenes which help us to piece together the mystery. Imagine starting a video tape at the end, rewinding ten minutes and then watching the climax, before rewinding 20 minutes and watching until the point that you first started watching, before rewinding a further 20 mins, and so on. This might sound confusing, and it is. But this approach adds to the movie in no small way, as you end up as confused and disorientated as Leonard.
The focal point for Leonard (and as it turns out, for the direction of the storyline) is a simple tattoo that says “remember Sammy Jankis”. When Leonard worked as an insurance investigator before the “incident”, he investigated a case were a victim in a car crash (Stephen Toblowsky – “Groundhog Day”, “Wedlock”, “The Glimmer Man”) developed the same condition as Leonard now has. It is a puzzle as to why this is such an important memory, but it becomes clear as the smoke clears in the climax (which is of course actually the beginning of the story!).
The performances are nothing short of excellent. Pearce once again shows his potential to become an A-list actor like fellow Aussie and “LA Confidential” star, Russell Crowe, by delivering a calculated and convincing performance in the lead role. An interesting observation is how Pearce’s character admits to Natalie that he cannot feel strong emotions as he can’t remember anything to be angry or worried about. While you might think that this makes Pearce’s character easier to play or one-dimensional, it does in fact bring a lot more mystery and intrigue to his character, and subsequently make you wonder what he really is like. Is he really the swanky, wealthy former insurance investigator, or is he perhaps a shadier character. If Leonard doesn’t know who he is, how are we supposed to?
Also delivering strong turns are Pantoliano and Moss. Moss is a relative newcomer who shot to stardom in Sci-Fi blockbuster, “The Matrix”, and her strong-headed character, Natalie, can be both sympathised with and loathed. Similarly Pantoliano, an experienced veteran, has a tricky job portraying the mysterious, Teddy, but carries it off with great success.
Normally when a storyline is directed as jagged as this one is, you’d be baying for the directors blood, but it is of course to the film’s credit that the story hops around as much as it does. Moving from the end to the beginning is maybe not an entirely unique idea, but the intricate way in which Christopher Nolan does this allows the story to develop with maximum interest and mystery.
That’s not to say the story is without it’s holes – in fact it may be fundamentally flawed. Although it is quite easy to follow as piece by piece unfolds, the final revelation actually leaves more questions than answers, and a mere 12 hours after I finished watching and I currently write, more questions reveal themselves all the time.
Overall, the dissatisfaction of the last 15 minutes is not enough to leave overall dissatisfaction. Maybe not a movie on a par with some of the years best but it will have people talking for some time in a similar way to how “The Usual Suspects” and “The Sixth Sense” did.