Following (1998)

Written & Directed by Christopher Nolan

It seems as though I have viewed Nolan’s films in reverse. Perhaps not literally, but to wrap up the filmography of famed director Christopher Nolan I recently sat down with his first film, a small budget British film released in 1998 before he rose to fame as the batman director. And now all I have to wait for with regard to Nolan is The Dark Knight Rises, which should prove the biggest film of 2012, but going back to the beginning was an interesting and very telling journey into the style and mind of one of the most prominent directors working today.

The film follows, oddly enough, a young man, a writer (Jeremy Theobald) who randomly follows other for material on his characters. But soon he gets confronted by one of the men (Alex Haw) he has been following. The man, who calls himself Cobb (what is the connection between Nolan and this name I wonder?[DiCaprio’s character in Inception was also called Cobb]), reveals that he is a thief, and invites the young writer to join him in a couple of his burglaries. The experience excites the young man, and soon he is caught in a situation he never saw coming. He befriends a troubled young woman (Lucy Russell), someone they had earlier robbed, and finds out she has a past. His ambitions, however, soon run into the well laid plan of Cobb, the smooth thief.

I always try avoiding comparing films to others, especially where the comparison is perhaps not as apt as it should be to bring it into the conversation, but I cannot help but think about Darren Aronofsky’s Pi when I think about this film. Aronofsky, like Nolan, has become one of the best directors working today, but the two are more closely linked by their feature film debuts. Like Nolan’s debut film Following, Aronofsky’s Pi was released in 1998 and shot in a low budget black and white cinematography with a run time less than 90 minutes. That would be enough to be intriguing, but the psychological nature of the films’ plots also links the films. However, Pi was too strange and alienating for my taste, whereas Following was a well constructed, well written, and well thought out crime thriller.

It is a simple film in its scope, yet the plot goes fairly deep. I can’t really say I was surprised by the beautiful web woven by Nolan, but for it to be his feature film debut, it is certainly impressive the craft of both the screenplay as well as his work as director behind the camera. The film proves that, despite the high budgets and big time effects at his disposal these days, Nolan is a filmmaker who can tell a story, and tell it well, which is the root of a good movie, no matter what bells and whistles are available to be thrown at the audience. But it was also fun to see his fashionable influence even in this film. Inception was probably the height of the sharply dressed Christopher Nolan’s on screen, but even this film has the suit wearing lead characters.

The twists the film present truly caught me off guard, and maybe that was in part the magic of the low budget black and white, but it was a film that I had to go back and think about after it ended. It was not easily laid out in its presentation and editing. I was also a fan of how the film pried on character. Cobb claimed to burgle places to get to know people, and the young writer was following people for the same reason. By far the most interesting scene in the film is when the young man suggests to Cobb an apartment to burglarize, and it happens to be his own. The man wants to find out what Cobb thinks of him. I greatly enjoyed this film and its high ambitions while still being able to remain small in both budget and plot. There is not a Nolan film I don’t enjoy, though I do need to revisit Memento, a film with great praise that I found average, in part to Guy Pearce whom I normally love.


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