By Joe Lozito
The device which propels writer-director Christopher Nolan's "Memento" is that the main character has no short-term memory. He remembers everything up until the night his wife was raped and murdered. Her assailant smashed Leonard's head into a mirror, and as a result he "can't make any new memories". The story of Leonard's quest to find and seek revenge on his wife's murderer unfolds in reverse in short pieces. The result is that the audience winds up with the same bewildered feeling as the protagonist.
That man, Leonard Shelby, is played by Guy Pierce in a complete 180 from the sycophantic, ladder-climbing policeman he played in L.A. Confidential. Mr. Pierce occupies nearly every frame of the film, and it succeeds on the shoulders of his solid, perfectly calibrated performance. Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss - together again after The Matrix - provide a solid background of mysterious characters with loyalties that may or may not shift depending on your point of view. And point of view is really what makes "Memento" work so satisfyingly.
The story doesn't rely on surprises endings or twists, in the vein of "The Sixth Sense" or "Fight Club". "Memento" has no trouble living up to scrutiny and, in fact, begs for repeat viewings by the nature of its non-linear structure. But Mr. Nolan isn't telling the story in reverse to make up for substance (the way similar episodes of "Seinfeld" and "The X-files" did). This movie isn't pedaling a gimmick, it has a real story to tell and a real point to make. Where Mike Figgis' otherwise brilliant experiment in simultaneous, parallel storytelling, "Time Code", fell short was that the script failed to provide an exciting story to backup the gimmick.
Mr. Nolan's screenplay is uncommonly interesting and unique, and it never takes an easy way out. Leonard is, by nature of his "condition", forced to be determined and methodical to an unimaginable extreme. He keeps a Polaroid with him at all times and tattoos important information on his body. Each time wakes up, he must relive the discovery of his wife's death. As a result his thirst for vengeance never wanes. The script follows through on the promise of its premise on almost all counts. Of all the ironies which fill the film, the most complementary may be that this is film which will not soon be forgotten.