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MEMENTO
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Director:  Christopher Nolan
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  Commentary, Featurette
Length:  113 Minutes
Release Date:  August 15, 2006

“Now…where was I?”

Film ****

I can’t think of any other film apart from Memento where style and narrative are so irascibly married.  In many great films, style enhances or edifies substance, but for this movie, there is no dividing line.  The film starts with its climax and staggers its way backwards piece by piece for one purpose and one purpose only:  to keep us in the mind frame of the protagonist.  He has no short term memory; as each scene starts, he doesn’t know where he is or how he got there.  And neither do we.  It’s a series of tiny puzzles that character and audience have to solve together. 

That character is Leonard Shelby (Pearce).  Once upon a time, Leonard was assaulted in his home in an incident that left his wife dead and him with a rare kind of brain damage:  he can no longer make new memories.  People he meets, conversations he engages in, places he’s been and things he’s done…they just fade into nothingness after a few moments.

He’s determined to find the man who killed his wife.  In his condition, it won’t be easy.  He tries to bring organization to his chaos:  he takes pictures of the things he’s supposed to remember and the people in his life, and he scratches notes on the photos to help him keep track of them.  Even more bizarre are the tattoos covering his entire body:  facts of the case, clues to keep in mind.  He is able to maintain his hazy focus by an occasional glance at himself in the mirror.

There are two important characters interacting with him during the story.  Teddy (Pantoliano) cannot be trusted…at least, that’s what Leonard’s notes remind him.  Natalie (Moss) may be a sympathetic ally.  Given the backwards structure of the film, we see how their relationships conclude with Leonard…but is how they begin actually more significant?

It’s easy to like Leonard.  There’s probably never been a character less equipped to solve a mystery than him with his short term memory loss, but his determination to succeed despite his handicap is winning.  It’s even easier to sympathize with him…if you’ve ever gotten tired of seeing movies where the characters know less than you do, Memento is a brilliant change of pace. 

As each scene begins, we are as much of a blank slate as Leonard, but like a finely crafted jigsaw puzzle, each piece slides nicely into the next.  In other words, don’t think this movie is a constant state of haze…far from it.  Like Leonard’s Polaroid pictures, what starts out blank soon becomes filled with information.  As each new piece clicks into place, it leads you further and further back into the story.  And don’t think for a minute you were cheated by seeing the ending of the story first…you ain’t seen nothing yet.  The structure is nothing short of spellbinding.  It will hook you from the opening frames and keep you riveted until the end.  Once you reach the end, there is only one place you’ll want to go…back to frame one for a repeat viewing.

Christopher Nolan’s Oscar nominated script is nothing short of genius, taking a standard genre like film noir and pulling it apart, only to re-assemble it into something that resembles noir, but plays like nothing you’ve ever seen before.  His sense of direction is impeccable, as timing and rhythm are crucial to the flow of the story.  This complex form flows smoothly under his guidance; you never feel you’re at the mercy of a driver who doesn’t have both hands on the wheel.

His cast deserves special mention, too.  Guy Pearce offers a flawless performance in a challenging role.  “You feel sad, you don’t know why, you feel angry, you don’t know why…” Leonard laments at one point.  It’s a confusing jumble to have to keep channeled, but Pearce doesn’t shy away.  Carrie Anne-Moss and Joe Pantoliano turn in two memorable supporting roles, creating characters that are both real yet enigmatic at the same time…without that mix, we couldn’t proceed looking at the story through Leonard’s eyes.

Memento was by far the best film of its year, and one of the most original movies of all time.  You definitely won’t forget it any time soon.

Video ****

Sony has done a terrific job with this Blu-ray.  Colors are more vibrant and natural looking than ever, and images are presented with solid contrast and definition.  You'll really appreciate the detail level when it comes to the clues that eventually point toward the conclusion!

Audio ****

Uncompressed hi-def audio makes for a solid listening experience.  There are moments of striking dynamic range here and there, and the spoken words render cleanly against the more ambient effects.  It might just be the quieter moments in the film, where suspense builds, where you'll appreciate it most.

Features **

We're back to the original release features for the Blu-ray edition...after all, the DVD was, in fact, a limited edition.  We have a commentary from Christopher Nolan and an "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette.

Summary:

I’ve seen this movie more than a dozen times already…no, it’s not that I have short term memory loss.  It’s simply that Memento is the rare breed of film that strikes you as brilliant the first time you see it, but even more so with each repeated viewing.  This is a smart, daring and strikingly original piece that moviegoers won’t see the likes of again any time soon.  Whether or not you’ve seen it before, now is the perfect time to check it out on high definition Blu-ray.

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