For my Deja Vu review, I said it was necessary to see the film before you could read the review, mainly because I gave away some plot points and things of that sort. This time, those of you who haven't seen Memento won't be disappointed, since I'll do my best not to ruin the movie for you. So read on...
Christopher Nolan = the man. His filmography (provided, as always, by the gracious folks at IMDB) is short but really impressive so far. Insomnia was a great flick, with both Pacino and Robin Williams giving good performances, but the main thing that stuck out in that film was the cinematography. It's been a while since I've seen it, but I recall almost the entire movie taking place in Alaska and since it hardly ever gets dark there, the lighting in the movie took on a character of its own. Pretty cool stuff. Batman Begins is considered by many (myself included) the greatest comic book-to-movie adaptation of all time. It took a lot to remove the ridiculousness that the previous Batman films had instilled into the viewer when that franchise came to mind (seriously: built-in ice skates in the bottom of Batman and Robin's boots?), but Nolan did a fantastic job with the movie. Plus, as an added bonus, I always have more respect for directors who write their own stories and screenplays and then direct their own movies (some prominent examples being M. Night Shyamalan and occasionally Hitchcock). The screenwriters really get shafted when its all said and done. The general public has no clue that it is actually the screenwriters who dictate most of the camera angles, etc. and the director is more of an overseer who just tweaks things here and there to establish the overall "feel" of the film. But Christopher Nolan has written (or co-written with his brother Jonathan) and directed the most famous of his films so far, so that garners much more of my respect.
Memento is the story of Leonard Shelby, a man who (get this) has lost the ability to make new memories. He remembers basic things about his life before an incident that caused his condition, but he can't remember what happened to him 5 minutes ago. Or 10 minutes before that. Seemingly at random, he just fails to recognize where he is, who he is talking to, or what he has just done. So he lives his life snapping and reviewing Polaroids, which he labels with important information about the subject of the photos. Also, his body is covered with tattoos telling him his one reason for living: that his wife was raped and murdered and there are clues to who is responsible. The film follows Leonard on his journey as he inches closer to the truth in his search for revenge.
What makes Memento such a great film is the completely unique style in which the story progresses. Because of Leonard's condition, the film is chronologically reversed in order, with the beginning of the film actually taking place at the end of the storyline. What makes it even more interesting is that between cuts of this reverse-order chronology (filmed in color, by the way, to indicate the temporal shift is backwards), there are scenes filmed in black and white that are moving forward in time. If you're confused by now, go watch the movie. It'll confuse you even more.
Even with the potentially confusing structure of the movie, Nolan does a good job setting the pace for the film in the first three scenes. He shows a color scene, then cuts to the forward-moving black and white one, and then reverts back to a color scene that happened immediately before the first shown colored scene. There is a slight overlap in these color scenes just to give the viewer SOME sort of sense of where they are in the time line. If you are one of those people that doesn't really like to think too much when you're watching a movie, then Memento is probably not for you.
After the initial shock from the unconventional storyline and structure wears off, the viewer can actually pay attention to the technical aspects of the film. The music never really plays a big part in the movie, but is effective in its haunting tones when divulging particularly important information. Otherwise, it is almost like there isn't even a musical soundtrack at all. This isn't really a bad thing; if this movie had any more information for the audience to process, I think people would go on overload mode. So its good that the soundtrack isn't overbearing in any way.
The camera work in this movie is really exceptional. The camera constantly concentrates on Leonard's character and follows him in an over-the-shoulder manner whenever he goes anywhere. There is also a numerous amount of direct close-up cuts to items that Leonard examines, which serves to give us almost a first person interaction with his character - we are seeing what he sees, when he sees it. This is the style in the color (aka reverse time) scenes. In the standard linear black and white scenes, the camera is much more detached from the character and takes a more objective look at his situation. Since most of the black and white camera work takes place in a hotel room, the camera is placed in an upper corner of the room, giving the feel of a security camera looking down on Leonard's situation.
The mise-en-scene of this film is deliberately spartan and non-recognizable. This is most likely done to mirror Leonard's condition with his memory in a much larger way; in this case, the city he is currently located in. The colors are mostly pastels and not too harsh, also serving as an indicator of nondescript backgrounds and locations - there isn't anything that is blantatly recognizable by color. This aids in lending a sense of helplessness to Leonard's situation. Memento has a gritty noir feel to it, due mostly to the camera work, the use of inter-cut narrations, and the convoluted nature of the plot (see The Big Lebowski for another modern example of the plot getting out of control).
Last but not least, the casting in Memento was thoroughly enjoyable. Guy Pearce (who was excellent in The Count of Monte Cristo), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity from The Matrix series), and Joey Pants (more professionally known as Joe Pantoliano, also of Matrix fame, along with The Fugitive and U.S. Marshals) all did a superior job in their respective roles as Leonard, Natalie, and Teddy. Their versatility as actors was certainly put to the test in a film like this.
If you haven't seen Memento, get ready for a mind-bending of mystery and intrigue that will surely leave you scratching your head and wanting to come back for another look. Until next time...