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Following

June 18, 2016

Following (1998)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Actors: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell

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Synopsis: ‘Bill’ (Jeremy Theobald) recounts in flashback how his habit of “following” people led him into a world of burglary, conspiracy and double-cross…

Review: Christopher Nolan’s “freshman” film, Following, is classic exemplar of a famous director’s ‘green’, debut work – undone as much as anything by its amateur limitations, but offering clues and a clear lineage to the superior body of work the director was to amass in the years and decades to come.

Unsurprisingly, from a chronological perspective, Following‘s clearest referent is Nolan’s subsequent film, Memento. Both films are shot in monochrome, have a voiceover/flashback framing device, and are variants on the crime genre infused with a little psychological frisson. Following certainly offers evidence to Nolan’s now hallmark visual ingenuity – not only with the black-and-white photography but with the quasi-Hitchcockian framing (there’s a jarring, mysterious close-up of an unseen, gloved assailant rifling through personal possessions – a clear anticipation of Nolan’s opening crime scene fragments from Insomnia; and there’s the way ‘Cobb’ cleverly ensnares ‘Bill’ in their first meeting through the use of half-drawn blinds in the café, and feet ominously pausing at the table of ‘Bill’.) Incidentally, it’s interesting to note Nolan revived the name of ‘Cobb’ for his epic dream detective story, Inception.

As the budget and overall industrial trappings increased to Nolan as his career progressed, it’s easy to see how he was able to expand and improve upon the somewhat ragged raw materials of Following. First, the writing and acting is, at times, slightly stilted in Following – especially the performance of Alex Haw as the suave, mysterious criminal, ‘Cobb’. Haw makes the classic amateur actor’s mistake of appearing like he’s just waiting to deliver his next line (i.e. not acting through his ‘reactions’) and only characterising through vocal inflection and not with any sense of actual feeling. Nolan was able to call on much more polished and seasoned actors from Memento onwards, and I think it’s not insignificant that he delegated most of his subsequent films’ original story and screenwriting duties to other people (often his brother, Jonathan) from this point on too.

It seems churlish to dwell too much on the understandable limitations of Nolan’s first micro-budget feature though. It’s unquestionably a visually distinctive work, it showcases Nolan’s exemplary taste in the aesthetic of his films’ musical score, and it’s an ingenious deconstruction of genre – taking its base hook of a man who “follows” other people for a compelling riff on noir conventions such as the femme fatale and a seemingly simple criminal act that goes horribly wrong….(June 2016)

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