If it came out in any recent year, I would think that I would easily place "Memento" in my list of favorite films for the year. In a year like this one, though, "Memento" is far and away one of the best pictures that I've seen so far. Rarely have I ever seen a film that goes over so much ground in such an original way that keeps itself so wonderfully organized and exceptionally well-constructed. The film also has one of the most shocking and stunning openings of any recent picture - a polaroid picture is being shaken dry and instead of developing, the picture is dissapearing and at the end, zips back into the camera. The picture is of a murder and, soon enough, we see all of the details of who and how. And soon enough, we see all the details of why.
Director Christopher Nolan has time moving backwards from the opening sequence on. The film revolves around Leonard Shelby (Guy Pierce) a man who sustained a blow to the head during an attack that has left him with a serious problem - he has no short term memory. Some things, such as who he is and his condition, stick. Other things, such as who he has talked to a few hours before, exit his mind quickly. So, he not only writes on polaroids, but takes notes and even further, tatoos words on his body to remind him of his quest - to avenge the murder of his wife.
He only has two main contacts - Natalie (Carrie Anne Moss of "The Matrix") and Teddy (Joe Pantoliano...also of "The Matrix"). They seem to be helping him at first, but are they really who they are? Are they really helping him, or using him? Is Leonard really who he says he is? As you can see by this paragraph, "Memento" is one of those movies where you probably will not want to drink one of the large sodas from the concession stand. Go to use the bathroom and you may miss out on valuable information. At the begining, the backwards narrative becomes slightly off-putting as you think that you know how the story ends, but as things progress, there is an impressive amount of tension trying to figure out how the movie itself began. The film actually goes both ways at once; while the main piece of the story tells short bits of the story going backwards, there are also bits of the story in-between where Shelby discusses an important part of the tale - a fellow who suffered from a similar problem named Sammy Jenkins who he ran into while being an insurance investigator.
It's not exactly easy to explain the twists of the movie and actually, it's almost better to leave them out of this review to not ruin any of the film's suprises. Again, I was impressed that Nolan was able to handle two stories that go backwards and present, both finally leading us to a possible conclusion, or does it really?. The movie keeps us on edge, confused and guessing what is going to happen next. It's one of the rare movies that I've seen in the past few months that had me thinking and pondering what happened for several hours after. The performances throughout the film are excellent and a couple are certainly Oscar-worthy, most notably Pierce, who delivers a stunningly intense, engaging performance that's smartly peppered with the occasional touch of humor (the character wonders at one point if he's chasing someone or being chased). Moss and Pantoliano also lend solid support.
Overall, "Memento" is easily the best thriller since another similarly mind-bending noir picture from about 6 years ago - Bryan Singer's "The Usual Suspects".
"Memento" is set to release on DVD 9/4/2001, but it's worth seeing before that if you haven't already as the movie still is playing in quite a few theaters across the country.