Review – Following (1998)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell
Before Christopher Nolan was the man who reinvented the superhero movie with the brilliant Dark Knight Trilogy, before he was even “the guy who made that backwards movie with Guy Pearce” (Memento for those of you playing along at home), he made an interesting little noir-thriller called Following. It is the story of Bill, an aspiring writer who decides to start following people at random, just to see what they do, thinking it will give him special insight for his writing. When one of his targets, a burglar named Cobb who breaks into people’s homes not so much to steal things as to voyeuristically look into people’s lives, approaches him, Bill finds himself involved in a very strange relationship.
Nolan’s debut feature, Following is a no-budget film shot handheld in grainy, black-and-white. Nolan wrote, directed, produced and shot the film himself. For cast and crew, he used friends and acquaintances, with the picture being shot over a period of about a year, shooting on Saturdays whenever people were free. I quite enjoy watching the really early films from directors who go on to become big names – the Directors Suite released a great DVD of Martin Scorsese’s early short films which is really worth a look – because it is interesting to see what traces of the filmmaker they would become can be found in those early, often much smaller scale, works.
The primary feature of Following is its narrative structure. Nolan takes a linear story, divides it into four sections and then inter-cuts them, delivering to the viewer a non-chronological narrative which tells us the young man’s story through a series of flash backs and jumps forward. Innovations in the realm of narrative form have become one of Nolan’s chief attributes as a filmmaker, with films like Memento, The Prestige and Inception all playing with form and narrative structure different ways. Following gives us an early, and much simpler example of the kind of innovation Nolan would employ as his career progressed.
The other thing which is great about Following is that it is only 70mins long. In a time when it is becoming increasingly common for films to go well beyond the two-hour mark regardless of whether they really need to or not, it is refreshing to see a filmmaker show that a good story can be told in under 90 minutes.
If anything lets this film down, it is they quality of the performances. However this is to be expected given the amateur cast – none of whom have added many credits of substance outside of small cameos in later Nolan films – and the disjointed nature of the production.
There is also a nice little moment of Nolan serendipity for the movie nerds out there. After Bill and Cobb break into a man’s apartment, we see them leave through a front door which proudly displays a Batman logo.
While it was really his next film, Memento, which established Nolan as one of the upcoming filmmakers of the early 2000s, Following did win a few awards, most notably at the San Francisco Film Festival and the Slamdance Film Festival, and announced Nolan as someone to watch. Following has recently been released on Blu-Ray as part of the Criterion Collection, and includes a commentary from Nolan, an essay by film critic Scott Foundas and Nolan’s short film Doodlebug.
Rating – ★★★☆
By Duncan McLean
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