After the promise of the no-budget London thriller Following, all eyes were on what Nolan would do with a little Hollywood cash. And he certainly hasn't taken the easy road. Memento is told with an even more unconventional narrative that keeps your brain in high gear from the very first shot. And it's absolutely brilliant--a terrific little thriller that takes the genre and turns it inside out.Leonard (Pearce) has a memory disorder: Ever since his wife (Fox) was raped and murdered, he can't create new memories, so he must use a series of Polaroids, notes and tattoos to remind himself where he is, who the people around him are and what he should be doing as he seeks revenge. "Remember Sammy Jankis" is his mantra, reminding him of an insurance investigation case from his "previous" life involving a man (Tobolowsky) who lost his memory and was cared for by his wife (Harris). But in the present there are lots of people scuttling around him, including a shifty fast-talker (Pantoliano), a victimised woman (Moss) and a vicious thug (Rennie). But who's telling the truth ... and who's using Leonard's disorder to their advantage?
The film begins with a short backwards scene in which someone gets killed. Then the narrative splits off heading alternatively backwards and forwards in time until we get to the central, climactic scene in which all the loose threads are sorted out with a serious jolt. There are surprises at every turn, and it's no mean feat to keep it all clear. But our attention is rewarded with a stunningly gripping story full of intelligence and wit.
Nolan directs superbly, capturing tiny details with clever camera work and design that echo Hitchcock, among others. And as the story unfolds, builds and accelerates, there's a real emotional punch to it all as well. The script is sharp, funny and very astute.And the performances are all first-rate. Pearce holds us right with him in each scene; and it's great to see fine actors like Pantoliano (The Matrix), Tobolowsky (The Insider) and Harris (Frasier) shine in roles beyond what we've come to expect. --Rich Cline