Christopher Nolan's breakout hit Memento was a big deal back in 2000 but risked not being relevant for much longer than that, with it being very much a concept movie. Luckily, very few have attempted/risked telling a story backwards so it's looking like Nolan's film is safe for now.
The film sees Leonard (Guy Pearce), a guy with a unique condition making him unable to create new memories who is on the hunt for the man, known only as John G., who raped and killed his wife. The story is told backwards and is intercut with a slow-developing strand told chronologically (if at an unknown point in time) and shot in black and white. The film opens with Leonard shooting his friend Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) in the face and we get to see, little by little, how this came to be. Like with Inception or The Prestige, here we have a thriller with a different approach which develops sort of like a maze, almost losing you here and there but ultimately keeping you hooked. Leonard uses various tricks to keep himself informed about any new development in the case he's following and although most of these, looking back, seem rather unnecessary and mostly there just to look cool and give the film some fun motifs to play with, once you're willing to accept that this guy wouldn't use cassette tapes or video to record himself it all works well enough. Using polaroid pictures, writing on his hands, tattooing "facts" all over his body, Leonard slowly but surely gets nearer to the truth. This is a movie that's rather easy to get hooked into since it reveals twists and turns as it goes on, always leaving you wanting more as if you were on a constant cliffhanger. Unfortunately this also means that Memento is really more about the journey than it is about the end "twist" which, as decent as it is, does feel somewhat anti-climactic considering all the misdirection which came before it.
Although with a bigger budget and/or a darker, somewhat more twisted script Memento could have probably told a more rewarding story and could have really wowed us with its ending, making the whole backwards gimmick feel truly worthwhile, the film remains a legitimately solid, well made thriller with all the class and clever little tidbits you'd expect from a Christopher Nolan film. There's never a dull moment and the web-like structure of the film might require you to rewind that brain of yours now and then but that only means you'll want to watch again and again, picking up all the clues peppered throughout the film. This is one of those rare, fascinating movies which directly challenges its viewer to play its game, keeping us guessing and trying to always stay one step ahead. As an experiment, Memento also works brilliantly, remaining serious in how it tells its story and deals with its characters yet also playful with its concept. It's a fun ride and it's one worth taking if only to see Nolan already hard at work teasing those little grey cells of ours. Guy Pearce proves to be the perfect lead, keeping his character both charming and enough of an enigma to doubt just about everything he does while Joe Pantoliano offers strong support as his slightly dodgy pal and Carrie-Anne Moss is at her best giving one of her most worthy performances to date.
While it may not exactly blow you away, Memento is still a memorable, iconic concept flick that's smart, slick and directed with flair. Chances are you'll be hooked from the start so do give it a go as this is one unique, nifty little thriller.