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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Memento

Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rated: R
RunTime: 116 Minutes
Release Date: January 2001
Genres: Mystery, Suspense

*Also starring: Jorja Fox, Stephen Toblowsky, Callum Keith Rennie, Joe Pantoliano, Larry Holden, Mark Boone Jr.

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Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

A disease like diabetes can be treated with insulin, but, for a severe short-term memory loss problem, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) turns to more unusual aids than drugs, namely Polaroid pictures, a ballpoint pen to write notes on his skin and a mass of memory-jogging tattoos.

Christopher Nolan's MEMENTO is easily the most bizarrely original film since BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. Opening with the Polaroid picture of a murdered body, the movie shows the photo slowly undevelop and shoot back into the camera. This turns out to be the ending of the story. The movie skips backwards and forwards thereafter with pieces of scenes being repeated, showing more context each time. The viewers find themselves absolutely mesmerized as they piece together this film which is like a jigsaw puzzle of an Escher print in which pieces keep disappearing and reappearing. Flaunting its ambiguity, almost every scene is open to alternate interpretations. And each new scene adds combinatorial possibilities to the explanations of previous scenes. People who like puzzles will adore this movie, as will all moviegoers who relish intelligent scripts that challenge their gray matter.

One of the many questions that the film poses is whether Leonard killed the right man, the man who raped and murdered his wife and who caused his infamous accident. After the blow to his head caused by his wife's murderer, Leonard has a short-term memory that lasts only seconds. He remembers everything before the accident but nothing after. This makes a man who knows who he was but not who he is. It also makes him prey to the unscrupulous. Spit in his beer, or much worse, and a minute later he will remember nothing about the incident.

Leonard takes pictures of his car and his motel so that he will be able to find them. On these visual note cards, he also makes important written notes to himself. On Teddy's (Joe Pantoliano) picture, for example, he reminds himself not to believe his lies. He no longer remembers what caused him to record this warning and how accurate it might be. His body is a walking billboard of personal reminders to himself. In mirror image across his chest, he has written, "John G. raped and murdered my wife." And on his arm, he has tattooed, "Don't answer the phone." As Leonard says, "Memory is treachery."

Told in heavy narration, the most common question Leonard finds himself asking is, "Where am I?" One of the places he finds himself waking is in the bed of Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss, THE MATRIX), whose place in his life changes as rapidly as does Teddy's. Trying to fit these two into Leonard's story becomes a fascinating exercise for the audience as the story keeps doubling back on itself.

Although an edge-of-the-seat thriller, it is frequently quite funny. Leonard wakes in his cheap motel one morning to find a gun in the drawer next to the Gideon Bible and a guy tied up in the closet. When Teddy asks him about whether the gun belongs to him or the guy in closet, Leonard says, "Must have been his. I don't think they'd let someone like me own a gun."

The film also contains an intriguing back story about Leonard. It seems that before he went bonkers, he was an insurance investigator. One of the claims he looked into was from the wife of a guy named Sammy (Stephen Tobolowsky), who had the same type short-term memory loss problem that Leonard developed. Serving both as a story in its own right and as a mechanism to explain Leonard's illness, this is one of the best subplots in a long time.

Although it is a brilliantly conceived and executed movie, there are a few disappointments: the ending is a bit of a letdown and the film would have been crisper if the storyline had had a few less iterations. These are minor quibbles, and this is the sort of picture that is so engrossing that you'll want to come back and see it again soon. Probably a couple of times more.

MEMENTO runs 1:48. It is rated R for violence, language and some drug content and would be acceptable for most teenagers.

Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes

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