For a feature film debut Following emotes a feeling of a well-seasoned director behind the camera. Hard to believe this is Christopher Nolan’s directorial debut. And in 70 short minutes, his talent pours out of every frame, every interaction and every line of dialogue written. Shot in black and white to make the mood even more tense with a smaller aspect ratio, Following peeks behind the curtain into a criminal lifestyle that soon becomes overwhelming once the main character gets a taste for it. It’s an addiction, it consumes the main character and ultimately becomes his downfall because of how naïve he is.
A young man (Jeremy Theobald) recounts a story to a policeman (John Nolan) about a crime he committed in an attempt to pin it on the real criminal. The Young Man is an aspiring writer looking for material for his book, so he picks out individuals and follows them at a safe distance – learning their habits, where they go to eat and shop but never to where they live. Following a man into a café, the man being followed knows he is and confronts The Young Man, introducing himself as Cobb (Alex Haw) a professional burglar. Cobb takes The Young Man under his wing and the two break into people’s flats and take small items like CDs, panties, and drink their wine. The Young Man decides to go at it alone to get better but soon realizes he’s way in over his head.
Nolan tells his story in a non-linear way. Cutting between The Young Man and Cobb burglarizing together to The Young Man going at it alone, on his first solo venture stealing a large sum of money to get risqué picture of the woman he’s seeing, The Blond (Lucy Russell) back to her possession. Little does The Young Man know that The Blond and Cobb are working together to frame The Young Man for a murder that was committed, and Cobb is being suspected of.
With a shorter than average runtime for a feature film, Following moves at a quick pace but takes its time with every scene. Nolan gets the most out of his emotionless characters who don’t seem to house any remorse for their actions. It’s a game to Cobb, breaking into homes, misplacing items, or raiding their liquor cabinets. As a screenwriter, Nolan’s talent quickly makes itself known, he’s able to craft a structured thriller that doesn’t become too predictable – every turn is unexpected as we as the audience experiences The Young Man’s turmoil with him in real time.
Nolan has total creative freedom with Following. He’s not only the writer and director but serves as the films cinematographer, making sure to capture the perfect angle. Following has the independent look and feel to it but acts as a major studio production. The budget is $6,000, mere pennies but Nolan gets the most out of every dollar.
As the feature debut, All the tricks Nolan uses predicts what type of director he will become. He focuses on the drama within between characters and how the characters are perceived in their environment. These are not good people despite how The Young Man see’s himself. even though he couldn’t predict being convicted for a murder, he still made the choice to dive in head first to this type of life knowing full well that there could be consequences. He even becomes paranoid that him and Cobb will be caught by the woman whose house they broke into and interacted with. And with that paranoia he chooses to to commit crimes. He should have picked a different topic for his book.
The only criticism I truly have with Nolan’s directorial debut deals with the sound editing and mixing. Understood that he chose to put the money into other aspects but there are points where the audio is not easily deciphered unless subtitles are on. And to be fair, it doesn’t take away from the experience this film leaves. It’s edgy, smart, and full of unpredictable twists and turns. Jeremy Theobald as the Young Man is naïve, inexperienced and in way over his head. He thinks he can outsmart a professional, but Cobb is way too dangerous. Haw plays the role with a shroud of mystery, never revealing too much information until the time is right. Haw and Theobald are a great pair together as mentor and mentee and Nolan does everything right not showing his full hand. Following is a melodramatic thriller that will keep you on your toes.
Written By: Christopher Nolan
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Music By: David Julyan
Cinematography: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan
Release Date: November 5, 1999
Running Time: 1 Hour 10 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
My Score: 3.5 out of 5