Friday, August 20, 2010

Film Review - Following

Following (1998)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw

An unemployed writer (Theobald) develops a habit of following people, either for writing material or just because the person looks interesting to him. At one point, Cobb (Haw), one of his subjects, catches him and confronts him about what he's been doing, then invites him to join him in his endeavors: breaking into houses and robbing people of their possessions. The driving thrust of these actions isn't merely to get items to fence, however. It is to psychologically mess with the home's occupant - hiding one earring, turning over personal items so they would know that they have been violated, drinking their wine. The more the writer engages in these activities, the more deeply he becomes involved with the life of one of his victims, which threatens to tear his already fragile world down.

This is actually the second time I saw Following, the first time being ten years ago immediately after seeing (and was completely enamored with) director Nolan's second film, Memento. Despite having seen the film and knowing the general conceit, I still found myself awed by the brilliant storytelling that by now has become expected from a Nolan film. Following is a psychological thriller, but the thrills are provided unconventionally; though not as unique as Memento, where the film and its action was presented backwards, Following is still non-linear, so you may watch one scene where the writer still has his longer hair, but the next he'll be dressed in a suit with short hair and sporting a shiner on his eye. The viewer has no idea what has transpired, but the future of this character is clearly not good, and then the dread sets in, knowing something bad is going to happen. Alfred Hitchcock was famous for employing the technique of letting the audience in on who the killer is long before the characters on screen find out so we would sweat the rest of the movie watching the events unfold onscreen. Nolan uses a similar tactic in many of his films (I kind of have to leave the Batman movies out of it because while well done, they are fairly straight forward films) but instead of giving us the answers from the get-go, drops hints by turning scenes into a jigsaw puzzle and after twist upon twist, everything is in its place.

Following has a complex plot, but is actually a very basic production. Obviously low budget, it is filmed in sometimes grainy, sometimes stark black and white, which gives it a special, neo-noir feel. Most of the characters don't even have specific names ("the young man", "the blonde"). While the production is good, the film's true star is Nolan, who wrote an ingenious story that was complex and cerebral without being confusing or pretentious. As I watched the film, I loved the fact that my mind was racing, trying to figure everything out, until I just let myself sit back and allow the plot to reveal itself in twist after twist that ultimately left a big dumb grin on my face. Nolan is one of the world's top directors today, and we expect great things from him, but 12 years ago when he wrote and directed Following, he was 27 years old, and that kind of genius is unfathomable to me. Whether you're a fan of Nolan's general filmography, especially the recent Inception, or just of his first two films of the rebooted Batman franchise, Following is a safe recommendation for anyone.

4 out of 5 stars


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