Before single-handedly rescuing the Batman films from the neon nightmare created by Joel Schumacher, Chris Nolan was better known as “that British guy who made the backwards movie”. With his first major film, Memento, Nolan made a great impression, only really hinting at what he was capable of as a director.
Guy Pearce stars as Leonard Shelby, a man with the unique handicap of not having any short-term memory. Over the course of the film Shelby explains that, while he can remember his past, since his wife’s murder he’s been unable to create new memories. Every so often he’ll find himself in a situation and not have any idea how he got there, or what he was doing.
While most people with this type of disorder would be likely to call it a day, stay home and watch Judge Judy re-runs (imagine, it’d be like every episode was new!), Shelby is different. He’s hunting the man who raped and murdered his wife, and won’t stop until he has the answers. To combat his disorder, Shelby takes polaroids of the people he meets, as well as meticulous notes – the most important he tattoos on himself.
If you found Nolan’s latest work Inception hard to follow, you may have some challenges here. In the present, we see Shelby explain his condition to a mystery caller in his hotel room. Through flashbacks, we’re shown how he arrived to be there, in reverse. While it sounds confusing, Mememto’s story is expertly told. Unfolding gradually, always staying one step ahead of the audience, but never becoming too convoluted or contrived.
Performances are good, if a little overdone at times. Memento plays out in a very noir (new word here) fashion. Joe Pantoliano (who you may recognise from Bad Boys, The Matrix or perhaps Baby’s Day Out) plays the rough-around-the-edges, Teddy, and his Matrix alum Carrie-Anne Moss plays the damsel-in-distress-slash-modern-day-femme-fatale. The performances of those surrounding Pearce throughout the film do feel broad, but that could be to do with the nature of Memento. No one is ever keen to show their full hand, which means that like Shelby, we’re never sure who can be trusted or might be leading him astray. At the very least, Memento is bound to keep you guessing right up until its final frames.
Memento is a fantastic thriller and perfect for anyone after something a little more cerebral than the usual action/thriller fair. It’s especially interesting viewing for fans of Inception, or even Nolan’s other non-‘Bat’ films, The Prestige or Insomnia.
Five out of Five polaroids.
Memento is rated MA15+ and available on Movie Box until June 9th.