Archive Review: Following (1998)

There’s no way to watch “Following” and not conclude that Christopher Nolan would become something special. Someone who can weave that much complexity into a film with a cast of few and in the course of just 69 minutes clearly has a knack for the filmmaking thing.

“Following” might not amount to a whole lot other than being the evidence necessary to secure financial backing for Nolan’s even more chronologically elaborate follow-up, “Memento,” but it holds its own. If “Memento” is the board game Clue than “Following” is Clue Jr. There are fewer characters, fewer loose ends to tie up, but the same desired effect is achieved.

The story begins with a young man (Jeremy Theobald) explaining to someone how he began following people. An aspiring writer, he’s fascinated by people-watching (and to some extent we all are), yet he admits he broke a few of his personal rules and therefore got caught up in the ensuing story.

One of the men he follows too far is Cobb (Alex Haw), who confronts him in a coffee shop. Before the young man knows it, he’s beings swooped up by Cobb, who has a knack for trespassing and “robbing” houses (he doesn’t take much). A total loner, the young man becomes his sidekick of sorts.

From this point on the film jumps out of order. Scenes from the end of the story are jumbled in with scenes from the beginning and scenes from the middle, with our only visual clue being the length of the young man’s hair. This is where the noir-style thriller comes in and justifies Nolan’s choice to shoot in black-and-white. The film seems like it will be a social experiment gone wrong, but “Following” evolves into a thick mystery.

After a thorough brain-scrambling, Nolan delivers the payoff by revealing twists one at a time. There are even twists on twists, quite the skill and daring for a first feature film. An amateur without a true gift would fail to dupe or impress anyone, but Nolan does both.

In order to make this climax work, Nolan does sacrifice a bit. Scenes we should have been paying attention to have no other compelling reason to keep our interest even though we’ll wish we had kept it when the credits role. Part of this is because he only had amateur actors, part is because the scenes only exist so that the ending makes sense and leaves no margin for error.

It’s easy to see why Nolan has risen to elite filmmaker status in just 12 years of feature filmmaking (to this point), and there’s no doubt cinephiles will be following him for many years to come.

4/5 Stars

Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell


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