Leonard (Pearce) has a memory disorder: Ever since his wife (Fox) was raped and murdered, he can't create new memories, so he must use a series of Polaroids, notes and tattoos to remind himself where he is, who the people around him are and what he should be doing as he seeks revenge. "Remember Sammy Jankis" is his mantra, reminding him of a insurance investigation case from his "previous" life involving a man (Tobolowsky) who lost his memory and was cared for by his wife (Harris). But in the present there are lots of people scuttling around him, including a shifty fast-talker (Pantoliano), a victimised woman (Moss) and a vicious thug (Rennie). But who's telling the truth ... and who's using Leonard's disorder to their advantage?
The film begins with a short backwards scene in which someone gets killed. Then the narrative splits off heading alternatively backwards and forwards in time until we get to the central, climactic scene in which all the loose threads are sorted out with a serious jolt. There are surprises at every turn, and it's no mean feat to keep it all clear. But our attention is rewarded with a stunningly gripping story full of intelligence and wit. Nolan directs superbly, capturing tiny details with clever camera work and design that echo Hitchcock, among others. And as the story unfolds, builds and accelerates, there's a real emotional punch to it all as well. The script is sharp, funny and very astute. And the performances are all first-rate. Pearce holds us right with him in each scene; and it's great to see fine actors like Pantoliano (The Matrix), Tobolowsky (The Insider) and Harris (Frasier) shine in roles beyond what we've come to expect. Superb in every way.
[15--themes, violence, strong language] 11.Sep.00
UK release 20.Oct.00; US release 16.Mar.01
"Pearce plays Leonard, a recovering widower engaged in an all-consuming search for the murderer of his dead wife. The person he seeks has left him with a particular cerebral trauma which prevents him from making new memories. To combat this affliction he turns his body into a flesh notepad daubing opinions and dates and times as biro tattoos which make him look like he's found the most desperate way to cram for an exam. He encounters Natalie (Moss) and Teddy (Pantoliano) who are willing to help for different reasons and director Nolan introduces these characters at their most raw and uncompromising then begins to take the audience back through the story giving the impression that the killer will be revealed at the end of 90 minutes. The exposition of these characters at their emotional peaks enables Nolan to gradually fade and tone down their true natures letting the audience experience a similar recollection as that of Leonard. Nolan subverts the entire genre of revenge thrillers. Utilising multiple flashback sequences - some fragmented yet in order - others repeated but beginning at the end of scenes then returning to reveal the moments that have passed immediately before, Nolan takes his plot and creates pivotal sections which will then be played in part and then in full. The confusion created enables a visual uncertainty to occur with the audience in tandem with the growing sense of mistrust expressed by the characters. Teddy tells Leonard on more than one occasion that 'You don't know who you are!' Leonard's protestations are met with the more defined comment 'You don't know what you have become.' This back-to-front approach allows Pearce to be considerably flexible with his character's traits as the whole man is being revealed as the story unfolds. And his ability to capture intense aggression and disarming moments of vulnerability ensure that you never know where this story is going. That is a rare thing indeed." --John Gibson, Edinburgh 26.Jul.01
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