The man with the gun suffers from short term memory loss. The only way he knows what happened a minute ago is to look at the Polaroid picture, drying in his hand. It shows a lot of blood and a hunched figure in the corner of an empty room.

Leonard's story is one of paranoia, vengeance and repetition. He has facts tattooed on his body to remind him. He has Polaroid photographs in his pocket to put names to faces: "Teddy. Don't listen to his lies. He's the one. Kill him."

Copy picture

Across his chest is written: "John G Raped And Murdered My Wife." Who is John G? Now he knows what he is doing today. Looking for John G. Is the man in the room with the blood John G? Is the figure in the photo Teddy? Why is he "the one"? Is Teddy John G? Who is Natalie?

Christopher Nolan has created a puzzle. He dices time, beginning at the end, flipping back and forth, returning to scenes with new perspectives, from different angles.

Leonard doesn't remember yesterday. He doesn't remember the beginning of a conversation. Natalie has a cut on her lip. The next time you see her, it's gone. This must have been before. Before what? Before she was hit in the face. Did Leonard hit her in the face? He could have done anything. He wakes from sleep in an unfamiliar room. There is a blonde in the bathroom. He has never seen her before.

Nolan's concept, based on a story by his brother, Jonathan, could have resulted in a confused mess. Memory is kaleidoscopic. A film consisting entirely of flashbacks is in danger of doing what David Lynch's Lost Highway did, alienate its audience by being too clever for its own good.

Nolan avoids this by treating Leonard's condition as the mystery. The who and why of his story becomes more important than the identity of the body on the Polaroid and Guy Pearce gives a focused performance that grips you by the chest hairs.

Carrie-Anne Moss from The Matrix plays Natalie, with an intelligent sexiness, immune to charm, and Joe Pantoliano, unrecognisable from the scheming Mafia accountant in Bound, plays Teddy with a fat grin on his face and a way of winding Leonard up just for the hell of it.

This is a complex thriller that has been deftly handled by a most exciting new British director.

Pearce proves himself to be a film actor in the Russell Crowe class. Nolan stands alone. A true original.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Man with memory damage searches for the rapist who murdered his wife.
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Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Junior, Jorja Fox, Stephen Tobolowsky

Year: 2000

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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