Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Quiet And Controlled, Following Launched Christopher Nolan!

The Good: Decent acting, Good direction, Generally interesting characters
The Bad: Plot develops from an intriguing concept to a very standard crime caper
The Basics: Following starts as an original concept film before transitioning into a fairly predictable crime conspiracy film.

Every now and then, it is fun to go back and see how artists who made it big got their start. As Interstellar (reviewed here!) hits DVD and Blu-Ray, I figured it was about time to go back and see how Christopher Nolan got to his position. Long before he worked with Hollywood a-listers on major films that used the scope of IMAX film beautifully, Christopher Nolan created a much more intimate film with a cast of virtual unknowns (indeed, the only IMDB credit for co-star Alex Haw is the one film!): Following.

Following is a black and white film that is short, simple and presages Memento (reviewed here!) with its out-of-order narrative technique more than the big blockbusters Nolan became known for. The thing about Following is that it truly sucks the viewer in by having a concept that is intriguing and original . . . before it becomes a remarkably familiar crime film. Following is not bad; it is just more of a formula film (at least for fans of genre crime movies) than it is a truly original and different movie.

Bill is a writer who gets his ideas for his writing by following people. He starts with a number of rules, chief among them is not to follow the same person twice. But when he follows a good-looking man with a mysterious bag into a diner, the man turns the tables on Bill (which is what he tells the stranger his name is, though it is pretty obviously a lie), by walking over and sitting down. The stranger, Cobb, feels Bill out before revealing that he is a burglar and Bill, intrigued, accompanies him on a “job.” Cobb seems to have standards as well (he always takes a single earring from the flats he burgles, he claims to want to simply shake up the lives of the people whose houses he breaks into, and he refuses to steal from people who are dirt poor) and that allows Bill to truly bond with him.

At the same time, Bill becomes enamored with The Blonde. After meeting Cobb, he strikes up a conversation with her and learns that she has recently been burgled herself. She is anxious because her ex-boyfriend is a violent mobster and he gets very jealous of her being with other guys. Bill soon learns that he fears her because he had a man killed in her apartment. When Cobb sets Bill up to rob the mobster’s bar, it sets off a dangerous series of events. The more Bill becomes like Cobb, the deeper he falls into implicating himself in a series of murders . . . that the police suspect were perpetrated by a burglar with a very specific m.o.!

Bill is an instantly intriguing protagonist. The way he follows people around is a cool concept (back in college, I did something similar – a far less invasive method, though – I would go to the Pizza Hut lunch buffet, stake out a corner and observe people for three hours while filling my gut). And if Following had explored that long-held character trait of the writer, the film might have been a truly original and bold film. Instead, Following becomes a con film and there are so many of those that it is disappointing how formulaic the film becomes when it starts treading in that direction.

Perhaps the film’s short duration is the result of writer-director Christopher Nolan having nothing significant or new to say about the crime genre. While Cobb embodies a different type of criminal seen on screen (he is a small-time burglar with his own set of principles), he soon evolves into exactly the type of manipulator and tool that viewers are familiar with. Cobb is like Kaiser Soze from The Usual Suspects (reviewed here!) without the hook or hyped legend to back him up.

Jeremy Theobald leads the cast of Following and he has about the screen presence of Jeremy Renner in the film. He is credible in his down-and-out loner persona. Alex Haw steals the scenes he is in by playing a completely believable professional of an atypical craft. Lucy Russell is fine as The Blonde, though she seems to have been cast more for her look (very classic Noir blonde) than for any real on-screen charisma.

The result is that Following is a solid and interesting start for Christopher Nolan, but it is hardly a real foreshadowing of how he landed his subsequent works.

For other works with Lucy Russell, please visit my reviews of:
World War Z
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Batman Begins


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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