Hey there. I’m currently apart of the “Debuts Blogathon” hosted by my very talented colleagues from Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop and Three Rows Back (please check out their stuff, they are very very good writers and I’m privileged to have them let me write in their Blogathon). The basic deal of this particular Blogathon is that you pick a director and then study his debut film. I picked Christopher Nolan and this is my review of his debut feature Following. You can also check it out on Three Rows Back. Thanks, and enjoy!
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Following is a beautiful film to watch. It unfortunately suffers from “amateur-itis” in several ways, but had it been made by a Christopher Nolan 10 years into his professional career, I believe it would almost certainly be considered one of the great crime dramas of the modern era.
As I said, it does suffer from “amateur-itis” – a term I’ve made up to describe elements of a film that really tell us ‘this was made by someone early into his career’. There is a fight scene that isn’t the most amazingly shot sequence in film history. Some of the acting seriously lacks. The main is referred to by Nolan as “The Young Man”, and played by Jeremy Theobald pretty well actually, although really there isn’t much to do emotionally – all the emotions are written into the dialogue. But the other two leads, “Cobb” and “The Blonde”, are not very well portrayed by their actors – Alex Haw (Cobb) seems to have difficulty making any of the swears he so often says seem needed, and Lucy Russell (The Blonde) just isn’t believable in the first place.
The sound mixing isn’t very good as well, which is somewhat surprising seeing as the editing of the shots is one of the better exponents of the film. A lot of the time it’s hard to hear what the actors are saying, yet I guess we can probably assume that Cobb’s swearing his head off.
But put all of that aside and you have yourself with a pretty damn good film.
Nolan’s direction early on, while the actual premise itself of “following” was being explained, gives us a great connection to the action. We are viewing things from a faraway point, in the midst of cars blocking our view as they pass by, as people scatter the streets, like we’re the ones spying, like someone’s being watched, and that really taps into the tone of the film – black and white colours, two-faced people, two-faced situations. That’s one of the real feats of the film: how it establishes the mystery, the disguises these people represent.
The non-linear structure of the screenplay isn’t too dissimilar to that of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, in that it tosses back and forth between time periods, so the story isn’t told completely in a row. That technique, when harnessed properly, can be extremely effective. It is harnessed very properly in Following. It works so well, because we feel confused in the beginning when the non-linear style kicks in, but by the end of the film we can understand why this is done – because the effect of mystery and deceit in confusing times is transferred perfectly from characters to viewer by Christopher Nolan.
But I find that the film isn’t as similar to Reservoir Dogs as it is to one of my all-time favourite movies, The Usual Suspects. That story is also somewhat non-linear and told through flashbacks and a constant narrative from the protagonist, Verbal. That’s how the early-goings work in Following – we hear The Young Man telling his story and giving background. But more than that is how the story unravels to such a point where it finally gets to the ending and the plot twist hits you over the head in a blaze of smoke and sudden surprise. That’s the best thing about The Usual Suspects, and it’s also the best thing about Following. We know it’s perfectly choreographed because once you see the film and think back, you can visualise all the clues left, and say to yourself ‘Wow, that’s damn smart.’
I have no doubt that this is Christopher Nolan’s love letter to noir films of the 50s, the Dial M for Murders, the Double Indemnitys, the Sunset Boulevards. It was shot in lovely black and white; I was completely infatuated with its raw beauty, and even though I didn’t get the chance to watch it on a cinema screen, I could still feel the raw graininess of Nolan’s Following. That’s how lovely it was to watch. I could feel mystery in the air.
It was almost like it had put the thought in my mind that at any moment, I could turn around and find a completely unknown man following me.
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