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April 21, 2001

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This one's for keeps!

Amar Parikh

Some films require you to leave your brains at home.

And then there are films like Memento which require you to check in the popcorn at the door.

Guy Pearce and Carrie Ann-Moss in Memento Memento is a complex thriller of The Usual Suspects-ish proportions. Watch it with a friend because after the final credits fade, you will need to talk things over.

Written and directed by the 30-year-old Englishman Christopher Nolan, Memento is very loosely based on a brilliant short story written by Nolanís brother, which was recently published in Esquire magazine. It is a breathless, frenetic tale of an insurance claims investigator Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), seeking vengeance for the rape and murder of his wife.

Any similarity with the death wish potboilers ends right there -- in an intense struggle with his wife's killer, Leonard gets slammed with a twisted variation of amnesia. His memory is normal up to the day of his wifeís death. Since then, due to the accident, he cannot hold any new memories for longer than a few minutes.

Saddled with the memory span of a flea, Leonard has to snap Polaroids and furiously scribble notes to remember people and places before his memory does the disappearing-ink act. The truly important stuff that just canít be trusted to a Post-It note gets tattooed on his body.

Operating out of a low rent motel, Leonard manically pursues the killer, but his path is littered with pitfalls: Who can he trust? Whoís saying the truth? What is the truth?

Memento A bartender, Natalie (Carrie-Ann Moss) and a shady cop, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), are among the motley cast of characters who may or may not be messing with him.

There is also a subplot that plays out in flashback as the film unfolds. It involves Leonard's investigation of an insurance claim for a person suffering from the same type of memory loss that eventually afflicts Leonard. It's best to stop the synopsis here because a film in the mystery/thriller genre works best the less you know.

Memento is inventive and edgy. It has a unique nonlinear chronology -- it starts at a point in time and unfolds backwards. Yet for all its stylistic bravura, Memento has one age-old flaw: characters you donít care for.

Leonardís spousal loss fails to tug at the heartstrings. Buried under the smart script and deft narrative structure is a film lacking in emotional resonance. At times, the film feels detached and clinical. But the pulse-quickening pace and tight direction keep you on the edge.

Wryly funny scenes abound -- like the one where Leonard forgets why he is chasing someone before realising it is he who is being chased. Second-time director Nolan has created a piece of work far superior to anything else on the depressing film landscape. At a time when Hollywood is content shoving formulaic mediocrity down our throats, a daring, original work like Memento is small cheer indeed.

Be warned: Memento cuts the audience no slack; it is the cinematic equivalent of a high-maintenance girlfriend -- nothing less than your complete attention is required.

Guy Pearce, unlike fellow Aussie and L A Confidential costar Russell Crowe, has doggedly shunned the Hollywood limelight. But after this performance, he might find it hard to remain low key. Bleached blonde and frantic, Pearce perfectly captures the torment of a man who has to regroup every few minutes of his life.

Carrie Ann-Moss in Memento Carrie-Ann Moss gives it her all. But she was much better as the kickass techno femme in Matrix. Playing a mysterious film-noir type isn't really her strong suit. Joe Pantoliano, Mossí costar from Matrix, disappoints with a middling performance -- surprising because he usually nails down menacing, shifty characters with aplomb.

Nevertheless, the star attraction here is Nolan, who has made the big boys of Hollywood sit up and take note. He has already started work on his next film starring Al Pacino.

If only Nolan found that emotional core in his work, we could be in for some exciting stuff from him. Meanwhile, this Memento is a keepsake.

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