Memento Review

May 16, 2001 | 9:58am EDT

Bent on avenging the rape and murder of his wife Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) must not only find the guy who did it but also do so without benefit of the ability to create short-term memories the result of a brain injury sustained in the incident. He can still recall events before the murder but anything in the present fades away in mere minutes. Understandably more than a little mistrustful he relies on Polaroids notepad scribbles and cryptic clues he's tattooed all over his body. He also meets a cop (Joe Pantoliano) and a sexy bartender (Carrie-Anne Moss) who are either helping - or hindering - his efforts. Undeniably talented and way underused Pearce brings just the right balance of bewilderment anger and melancholic acceptance to a role that must almost single-handedly carry the entire movie as other characters are mere players in the enigma that is Leonard's life. The reliably sleazy Pantoliano is reminiscent of Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon as Leonard's maybe-cop maybe-bad-guy sidekick. In a particularly chilling performance Moss as the tough-as-nails bartender Natalie raises more questions than she answers and will keep you guessing until the end. Memento's 29-year-old writer/director Christopher Nolan won the screenwriting award at Sundance for this film the first from the festival to open wide. Starting a movie end-first and telling its story via flashbacks is hardly a novel idea but Nolan puts a spin on it by artfully juggling the tricky backwards narrative of not one but several story lines that come together in an unsettling unexpected climax. Most ingenious is the way every new scene tells you what just happened -- the questions are how and why -- so you're just as in the dark as poor Leonard. The movie contains so much information you're tempted to look for inconsistencies. But not only are its plot lines quite neatly tied up it's too much work to look for the holes in the first place. Hitchcockian cinematography vaults back and forth between black-and-white and crisp striking color giving a hard-boiled noirish feel (these shifts also help the moviegoer keep track of what is present and what is past).

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