Memories of TomorrowReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 08/11/05 16:43:49
In the movies, nobody just has amnesia. No, not only are filmmakers obsessed with this disease that strikes on screen far more regularly than it does in the real world, but they’re also obsessed with the idea that amnesia in itself isn’t enough. Movie characters unfortunate enough to not remember their past must also have some deep, dark secret - preferably one involving being a secret agent, professional killer, or some other deadly, mysterious type.Consider “Memories of Tomorrow,” a no-budget effort from New Zealand in which a happily married man has lived for four years without knowledge of what came before that time. It’s interesting, touching, highly emotional stuff. But this is the movies, and even in a small, homemade independent work, amnesia must lead to espionage, gunplay, murder. So much for indie dramas being a reflective slice of life.
The film’s biggest mistake is that it tries to be the action thriller it so clearly shouldn’t be. Shot on a shoestring budget with an unpaid cast and crew over several weekends whenever everyone was off from their day jobs, the film manages to hide its low cost roots through deftly crafted characters and solid acting - until, that is, the guns come out, and everything just devolves into friends with fake guns playing spy for their buddy’s camera. There’s a whole plotline midway through the picture involving secret agents and hi-tech surveillance equipment and computers that do the sort of things computers can only do in the movies (in this instance, zoom in on a photographed face and match the person to one in their files, all in a matter of ten seconds or so). This sort of stuff simply doesn’t belong here. The cast members don’t fit the type, and it’s stressful on the suspension of disbelief.
Which is not to say the film fails. On the contrary, it works quite well in most spots, even when the reality-stretching professional assassin mess gets rolling. This is because writer/director Amit Tripuraneni treats his story not as a high concept shoot-’em-up, but as a quiet, internal number. He puts his focus on two characters: the amnesiac John (Richard Thompson) and his wife Tanya (Rachel Gilchrist). We spend most of our time with this couple, trying to figure out John’s past, trying to decode the nightmares he’s been having lately, and trying to figure out whether or not Tanya really wants John to remember in the first place.
The story picks up steam with the arrival of Roger (Ray Trickitt), who has some connection to the couple’s past; indeed, his arrival seems to kick up some serious emotions, as Tanya fears what memories he may stir, while the unknowing John fears that his wife may be cheating on him. Tripuraneni’s story structure, frustrating at first due to its all-over-the-map delivery and resistance to deliver necessary information, pays off once the pieces fall into place, and we discover how each of these three people fit into the big picture.
It’s a unique kind of story, a sort of personal three-character play by way of John Le Carré and Graham Greene. The private, intimate side presented here makes for a nice spin on the old spy story. It’s only when the script tries to branch out, bringing in more characters and a bigger emphasis on action over drama, that the film loses its footing. This iffy detour is so detrimental that it almost kills the entire story; thankfully, we soon return to the story’s center, and the impressive performances from Thompson and Gilchrist push the emotional depth back into play, salvaging the film and handing us a memorable finale.
(Well, there’s an iffy postscript to the story that thinks it’s more clever than it really is, and there’s one unfortunate scene that tries to play up John’s eroding sanity but winds up being an embarrassing unintended parody of the Gollum self-conversation scenes in “Lord of the Rings;” but these are forgivable, especially considering how well Tripuraneni manages to get his more action-oriented parts to work for the big finish.)
What’s most impressive about “Memories” is its look. The lead cast gets credit for carrying us through the story, yes, but it’s the crew that deserves the biggest pats on the back. You see, it wasn’t until after the film was over that I learned that it was produced for a mere fifteen thousand New Zealand dollars. Which is to say, movies don’t get made at this price and get to look this sharp. But somehow, Tripuraneni, director of photography Lance Wordsworth, and the rest of the crew managed to pull out a (mostly) impressive visual style. I say “mostly” because the digital video on which the movie was shot does reveal its low budget from time to time, and the occasional effects shots (mostly the aforementioned computer bits) don’t quite fly. But other than that, this is one good looking movie. Wordsworth figured out how to make the digital look work for him, while Tripuraneni figured out how to hide the seams. No, it doesn’t look like a Hollywood blockbuster, but it does look like the kind of independent project that cost at least a hundred times what it actually did.But impressive production values mean nothing without a solid story, and the story is where “Memories” both succeeds and fails. It gets by with a first act that doesn’t wow us but keeps us watching; it crumbles in an awkward second act that doesn’t quite cut it in terms of super spy thrills; it soars in a final act that allows the personal side of the story to win out. The overall result is a crafty little thriller that works despite its lesser moments, all thanks to smart characterization and a dependence on emotion. This is not a great homemade feature, but it is a good one, one that will do a substantial job of showcasing a handful of talent both on screen and off. As a formal debut for most of those featured, it works.
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