In a decade loaded with puzzle pictures—structurally innovative movies like Run Lola Run, Pulp Fiction, and Atom Egoyan's Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter—Memento probably stands as the most technically sophisticated, since its achronology is packed with the details of an amnesiac's unreliable investigation. But the film's real achievement isn't its backward structure so much as what that structure serves, namely a profound examination on the nature of memory and how it plays into one man's grief and self-deception. All of which leaves 11:14, a star-packed indie that also unfolds in reverse time, to shrink away into pea-sized significance. Writer-director Greg Marcks has deftly orchestrated a series of interconnected events that take place at around the same time, but it's hard to fathom exactly why he's done it, other than to show off a little. Where's the beef?
Within about a 15-minute span leading up to 11:14 p.m., enough incidents of violent crime occur in the sleepy town of Middleton to keep the entire NYPD busy, but all the custodial work is left to cop Clark Gregg, who has to stuff all the perpetrators in his back seat. The film begins with a drunk driver (Henry Thomas) smashing into a body that's been dropped from the overpass, but his inebriated state leads him to pull an ill-advised cover-up. In other business, three bored pranksters pay a terrible price for their antics, a convenience-store robbery leads to the clerk (Hilary Swank) getting shot and charged as an accessory, a protective father (Patrick Swayze) covers up for a murder he didn't commit, and his daughter (Rachael Leigh Cook) manipulates her boyfriend (Shawn Hatosy) into paying for an abortion. Basically, if anyone in the town is still up at that hour, they're probably doing something horribly wrong.
Because the story is told from back to front, there are a lot of important things that cannot be known about these characters, namely the consequences of their actions and how they're affected by tragedy. In fact, the only thing that's really clear about citizens of Middleton is that most of them are total nitwits who get more or less than they deserve. It might have been nice to spend some time with any of them, especially Swank's insecure brace-faced clerk and Hatosy's naïve would-be desperado, but Marcks can only spend a brisk 15 minutes per vignette before hurrying along to the next one. The best possible feeling that 11:14 could leave behind is that Marcks has pulled off something clever, but just bringing the puzzle pieces together isn't that impressive a feat. As Memento proves, it's the big picture that really counts.