Momento

Momento is a 2000 neo-noir psychological thriller film co-written and directed by Christopher Nolan, based upon a short story titled Momento Mori by his younger brother Johnathon. Johnathon’s story would later be published in a 2001 issue of Esquire Magazine. The film stars Guy Pearce, Carrie Ann-Moss, and Joe Pantoliano. Pearce plays an insurance investigator named Leonard Shelby. Leonard has developed anterograde amnesia after being clubbed in the head by one of two men who broke into his house and raped and murdered his wife. Leonard was able to kill one of the men, but the second escaped. Anterograde amnesia affects the brain’s ability to make new memories, meaning Leonard wakes up every day with his last memory being that of his wife’s murder. Leonard, despite his condition, takes it upon himself to exact revenge. Using a series of tattoos, notes, and polaroids, Leonard develops a system so he can continue hunting the man despite not being able to store recent memories and sometimes forgetting conversations after having them.

Momento, like Nolan’s previous directorial debut Following, is presented in a complex non-linear narrative that includes two distinct time frames, one in black and white, and one in color. The black and white sequences come first, followed by the full-color sequences, which are shown in reverse. For reference, I have included a diagram of the film’s structure which, although containing spoilers, should visually spell out the film’s narrative complexity.

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This complex and at times confusing plot structure adds to the mystery of the film and left me invested, trying to figure things out. Though I feel specific plot details of the film are difficult to explain due to this complex structure, I will simply say that it very much works to the film’s advantage and should draw the viewer in, as I certainly was.

Momento’s engrossing plot is punctuated by brilliant performances from Pearce and Moss. Guy Pearce, who rose to stardom with the brilliant neo-noir mystery film L.A. Confidential in 1997, is, in my opinion, a vastly underrated actor who seemed to disappear from the spotlight as soon as he found it, with his most recent work of note being Aldrich Killian in the somewhat disappointing Iron Man 3, to the best of my recollection. He is great in this film, and he makes Leonard extremely empathetic and engrossing. Carrie Anne-Moss is also excellent here, and the two leads show great chemistry (and lack thereof, when need be).

There isn’t much else to say about Momento without getting into spoilers. It is another well-directed, well-scripted, and well-acted film by a man who would eventually become one of the most popular directors of my generation. Momento continues to receive critical acclaim and is often touted as one of the best films of the 2000’s, in addition being known as one of the most realistic and factually accurate depictions of anterograde amnesia in fiction. Some consider Momento to be Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus, though I personally feel that honor belongs to The Prestige. Featuring very poignant acting and dialogue and a complex and mysterious plot that is sure to generate interest, Momento is a brilliant film that is well worth a viewing.

Following

Following is a 1998 British neo-noir crime thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan in his directorial debut. The film stars Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, and John Nolan, Christopher’s uncle. Following tells the story of a struggling, unemployed, and unnamed (like all of the characters in this film) writer who takes to following strangers around the streets of London. This strange new hobby draws him into the city’s criminal underworld after he takes his odd, yet ultimately innocuous hobby too far.

Being Nolan’s directorial debut and being straight out of film school, Following was shot on an official budget of $0.00. The most expensive part of filming was the actual 16mm film stock, which Nolan paid for with his own salary. The film was intended to be as inexpensive as possible to produce. In order to economize the expensive film stock, scenes were painstakingly rehearsed ahead of time in order to get a perfect scene in as few takes as possible. The cast and crew, if you can call them that, all worked full-time during the week, limiting film production to Saturdays. Fifteen minutes of footage every Saturday was shot over the course of four or five months. The decision to shoot the film in black and white came from the fact that Nolan did not have access to lighting equipment, forcing him to only use natural, real-world lighting. Even on a no-budget shoot, Nolan described the production as “extreme.”

Following is a very impressive film. Often, low-budget productions are just plain bad, but this film is proof that you don’t need money to make a movie, though I will admit a budget of some level will usually help a lot. Low-budget films are often bad because the filmmakers try to be flashy and reach for levels way outside their budget. Christopher Nolan, even as a young man fresh out of film school, is smart enough not to do that. Following is extremely barebones, and it is, in fact a better film because of it. The core elements of a good noir film are there and, due to the fact nobody had the time nor the money to focus on anything else, those core elements are perfectly constructed and brilliantly executed. There’s nothing extraneous here, only the stuff that needs to be in the film is in the film. Following, from a plot perspective, is very tight and focused, an aspect of filmmaking I think Nolan, admittedly still one of my favorite directors, has forgotten in his more recent work.

Following is also surprisingly very well-acted. The cast, made up entirely of unknowns, even 19 years later, is very talented. The unnamed main character comes off as an everyman, even with his odd, some might even say creepy, pastime. He seems like a slightly odd but relatable guy. Cobb (which Nolan reused as the surname for the main character in 2010’s Inception) is as charming and witty as he is scummy.

Following uses a non-linear narrative to keep things interesting, something that has become a staple in Nolan’s films. The dialogue, like the overarching plot itself, is sharp, witty, focused, and on-point.

Following is not the greatest neo-noir film ever, not is it Nolan’s best work. It is, however, an interesting early work of one of today’s most well-known filmmakers, and is a great showcase of his talents as a director. Clocking in at only an hour and ten minutes, Following is a scrappy, smart, and interesting noir film and the testament of what a filmmaker can do given will, determination, ingenuity, and intelligence.

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang is a 2005 American neo-noir crime comedy film written and directed by Shane Black in the Lethal Weapon screenwriter’s directorial debut. The film stars Robert Downey, Jr, Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan. The story takes place in Los Angeles, California. Harry is a petty thief who accidentally wanders in into a screen test while running from the police. Harry, who had his witnessed his partner-in-crime be shot and killed moments earlier, has a mental breakdown, which is mistaken for character acting by the producers. He is sent out to L.A. and is to be given private detective lessons by experienced P.I. Perry Van Shrike, A.K.A Gay Perry. Harry also reconnects with an old friend and the girl of his dreams, Harmony, an aspiring actress. Harry and Perry accidentally stumble upon a murder mystery while on a routine surveillance job, while Harmony and Harry attempt to solve the mysterious death of her twin sister.

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang is a great film in every way. I don’t think I really have anything bad to say about it. It is hilarious while also providing a tight and interesting mystery plot. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do, it definitely gets the neo-noir feel right, it’s an interesting mystery, and it is laugh out loud hilarious. Harry regularly provides sarcastic, fourth-wall-breaking commentary throughout the film, delivered in only the way RDJ and Ryan Reynolds can do. Shane Black is a witty comedic genius, with a sense of humor unlike even the most experienced screenwriters. The “Definition of an Idiot” scene had both me and my friend dying of laughter, and it may be the most simplistic joke in the history of comedy, and it is awesome.

The movie is able to keep the laughs going throughout, but it also makes you genuinely feel about the characters. This is, I think, Robert Downey, Jr’s specialty. Even pre-rehab and pre-Iron Man, Downey as an actor had been graced with likeable “everyman”-type qualities that are in full effect here. You root for him, you root for Harmony, you root for Perry. Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, in addition to being hilarious and even engaging from a mystery aspect, also has a very honest and sweet quality about it, and that is what takes the film from “great” to “excellent.”

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang is so good, in my opinion, that I honestly can’t think of a whole lot more to say. The film, full of hilarious, endearing, and downright interesting moments, owes a lot to its actors and their abilities, but owes a whole lot more to its brilliant and underrated writer/director Shane Black, who, a decade and change later, still does not get the credit he deserves. Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang is a cult classic film and a high watermark for both the comedy and neo-noir mystery genres that should be enjoyable for everyone, and you should definitely check it out. Although I just discovered this film recently, it is now one of my favorites.