Christopher Nolan’s cinematic breakthrough, Memento follows Guy Pierce’s Leonard Shelby as he embarks on a relentless quest to find and kill his wife’s murderer – with the character’s efforts complicated by a condition that leaves him unable to form new memories. Filmmaker Nolan, working from his own screenplay, delivers a gripping mystery that’s enhanced by a decidedly unusual structure, as the movie, aside from a series of set-in-the-present, black-and-white sequences, attempts to replicate the protagonist’s mental state by unfolding entirely in reverse – with the boldness of this choice, which becomes apparent and easy-to-follow almost instantly, adding an extra layer of depth to an already-engrossing narrative. It’s clear, too, that Memento benefits substantially from Pierce’s absolutely mesmerizing turn as the stubbornly determined central character, while the picture’s supporting cast boasts rock-solid periphery performances from folks like Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, and Stephen Tobolowsky. The intense atmosphere, which is heightened by Wally Pfister’s gritty cinematography and David Julyan’s haunting score, compensates for an opening act that’s perhaps not quite as streamlined as it could be, although this is ultimately a concern that’s rendered moot by a second half that only grows more and more captivating as it progresses. By the time the jaw-dropping finale rolls around, Memento has certainly confirmed its place as an atypically accomplished sophomore effort from an uncommonly talented filmmaker (and it’s rather apparent, as well, that the picture is that rare beast that one wants to rewatch immediately once the credits have begun to roll).
**** out of ****