Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review: Memento

Christopher Nolan made an excellent film for his second time out with a bigger budget and wild story. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) has short term memory loss so the entire story plays out backward. Leonard kills Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) because he believes he is the one from instructions written on the back of a photograph. He uses tattoos to help him understand what he needs to remember and the message scrawled permanently on his body leads him to a man named John G. who raped and murdered his wife (Jorja Fox). Revenge is his primary motivation and he uses facts and clues to fuel his constant investigation. 

He meets up with Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) who leads him back to Teddy, whose real name is John Gammell. He tells everyone about his condition that he meets including the hotel manager Burt (Mark Boone Junior) who profits off his condition by renting him a second room. Leonard has been drawn into something dangerous by Natalie as he is attacked by a man named Dodd (Callum Keith Rennie) who he beats up and requests Teddy help him scare off. He is accustomed to waking up in hotel rooms but is never sure where he actually lives. He believes he can use logic and facts to keep his world in order and live a better life. 

In between each of the color scenes are black and white scenes where Leonard explains his illness. In the black and white part, he tells the story of Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky), a man that suffered the same fate as him. he was an insurance investigator who looks into Sammy's condition as his first claims case. He doesn't believe Sammy's condition is real. He makes Sammy take tests for his memory, which are troubling to the poor man. Leonard concludes that Sammy's problem is psychological, not mental. Mrs. Jankis (Harriet Sansom Harris) is devastated by Leonard's decision and the rising medical bills. 

He is haunted by the memory of his wife, even hiring a hooker to pretend to be her so he can wake up thinking she is still alive. The night of the murder becomes clear even as he burns her things to stop obsessing. Teddy warns Leonard that his investigation is out of control and that Natalie is using him but he doesn't listen because of a note on a photograph. Natalie is in trouble with Dodd because Jimmy (Larry Holden) went missing and she also says horrible things knowing Leonard won't remember. She does other nasty things, taking advantage of his lack of memory. In the black and white scenes, Mrs. Jankis has Sammy kill her by telling him that she needs insulin shots over and over.  Teddy keeps trying to convince Leonard to leave town. The black and white story catches up to the current as Teddy is revealed to be the man Leonard was talking to on the phone. 

The story collides when Teddy reveals Leonard has been making this all up. He was actually Sammy and killed his wife. He's been killing different men named John G. at Teddy's behest. Leonard does not accept the truth, burning the evidence and setting up his path to kill Teddy. Christopher Nolan continues to excel at telling stories out of order yet comprehensible and with tons of shocking twists. The backwards storytelling works great as each bit of past information allows the mystery to unfold in reverse and information to make sense as the movie goes forward. This movie is one of my favorites and I still enjoy watching it every so often. 

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