With "The Dark Knight Rises" still going strong at the box office (madmen can’t take away our love of the cinema!) it felt important this week to keep the brilliance that is Christopher Nolan going – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick! This week we’re showing love to the Dark Knight helmer by examining a little five-star ditty from his early days as a budding filmmaker. Bursting onto the scene with originality, creativity and a real knack for telling a story, Nolan delved into his brother Jonathan’s short story drawer and a great film was born. A murder, a hunt for a killer, and an investigation - all without the ability to retain the facts. (And not even necessarily in that order either!) Take a picture, get a tattoo and grab a pen and paper – it’s the 2000 indie smash..."Memento!"
Leonard Shelby is a man on a mission. His wife has been killed and he’s out to find the person who did it. But there’s a problem. During the attack by two men, one of whom was killed at the scene, Leonard is struck and the result is anterograde amnesia – the inability to store or retain any short-term memory. So to compensate Leonard has developed a system of clue retention tactics that keep him focused on his task. Things like tattoos, polaroids, maps and notes galore all play a part in helping the ever-confused Leonard hold on to both his info and sanity to help find the killer.
There’s a ton of complicated story points not listed above that enrich the tale of "Memento," but like the flick itself they must be seen. Nolan, as everyone knows by now, is a master storyteller, craftsman and visual stylist like no other and in "Memento" he uses all his tools to elevate the films’ indie sensibility. Colorful characters (Stephen Tobolowsky’s Sammy is a scene stealer!), iconic images (the look of a tattoo ridden Leonard is forever etched in the brain!) and witty situations (am I chasing him...or is he chasing me?) all flourish under the genius of Nolan. He even goes so far as to play out the events of the film backwards, thus masking the predicament of lead man Leonard to keep the audience equally and delightfully off balance. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker it could have been a cinematic death sentence, but Nolan wields the clever device with such confidence and panache that it’s a breath of fresh air. (Plus the use of color and black & white for forward and backwards movie motion is super skillful!)
"Memento" was also one of the first times we got to see just how gifted Nolan was at casting the right actor for the job. (Note I said actor - not celebrity!) As the confused, yet calculated husband on the hunt, blonde haired Guy Pearce brings such a strong presence and sincerity to Leonard that it’s impossible to think of anyone else in the role. (And yes, it’s probably his best work!) But Nolan also knows side characters even better and thus we get the likes of Carrie-Anne Moss as the not-what-she-seems Natalie, good luck indie film charm Joe Pantoliano (see the Wachowski Bros. flick "Bound!") as the ever-slimy Teddy and sassy Mark Boone Junior as the burly Burt.
What’s most thrilling about Nolan's brilliance in "Memento" (and continues in every piece of work he has done since!) is how everyone within his world has so many sides and so many secrets. Taking a page out of fabulous filmmaking 101, Nolan inhibits the film with complications, mind-benders and thought provoking elements that most major studios avoid like the plague. It’s then so ironic that the very same filmmaker has gone on to create some of the biggest box office smashes of all time – all with the same cinematic care. The result has been a slew of films that would make both the indie and big budget film worlds proud (see Inception for both in one!) and proof positive that an adult audience doesn’t like to be treated with kid gloves.