Published Sep 01, 2000Every morning, when Leonard (Guy Pearce) wakes up, his mind is a blank slate. In fact, Leonard's short-term memory wipes itself clean every few minutes. The one thing he does know for sure is tattooed across his chest, written in reverse image so that he can read it in the mirror: "John G. raped and killed my wife." Armed with this disjointed scrap of information (he has no idea who John G. is), along with dozens of Polaroids of people he's met (he makes notes as to whether or not they can be trusted), Leonard exists from moment to moment as a living embodiment of single-minded vengeance. This is the doozy of a premise that propels Christopher Nolan's Memento, a jittery, almost too-smart-for-its-own-good thriller that makes The Usual Suspects look clumsy and inelegant by comparison. Nolan's first film, called Following, was a 70-minute, black and white stunner of a modern film noir, and Memento is a quantum leap forward, which should establish him as one of the savviest thriller directors working today. He has an ease with the complexities of his plot structure that is an astounding feat considering that the story is told backwards. It begins with a staccato act of revenge, and then works its way back through the tangled, but always clearly comprehensible, web of red herrings and double crosses until the final irony completes the picture. There's even a secondary time-line that weaves its way throughout the fabric of the film, and amazingly, all of these seemingly unwieldy complications actually propel the narrative like a bullet. The cast is small æ aside from Pearce it's basically just Joe Pantoliano, and Carrie-Ann Moss æ and you'll go back and forth about a dozen times on whether or not you can trust either of their characters. Memento makes you see the world through the blinkered view of a perpetual amnesiac, and as a result, director Nolan can consistently pull off twists like giving the audience the punch line to a scene, and then having the set-up come afterwards. Everything gets explained in increments, and each scene ends with an enticing revelation that reels you in like a catchy hook in a pop tune. To tell you any more about those hooks would be to spoil the consistent ingenuity of what might turn out to be the thriller of the year.