Are you a fan of Christopher Nolan? His impressive filmography includes Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises. But his first feature was Following, and I imagine that there are plenty of Nolan fans who haven't got around to seeing it. My first viewing was just a few months ago, shortly after the Criterion Blu-ray release.
Why do I want to review it?
Well, one reason is that I wanted to talk about the first first film made by one of the best directors working today. Another incentive was the presence of actual ideas. Following is unpredictable, and does not use proven formulas. It works because it is genuinely interesting and compelling.
You have probably never heard of the actors involved. The two principals haven't had much of a career since, but I enjoyed their performances. The film is full of mysteries and revelations, so I am not going to talk about everything that happens. Instead, I'll limit most of my comments to things we learn in the opening 10 minutes.
The film grabbed my attention after two minutes during the opening narration by Bill (Jeremy Theobald), who is the main character. He tells us that he's unemployed, and frequently bored and lonely. In order to combat his boredom, he decides to start following people at random. In his own mind, he's an aspiring writer, although he probably views himself that way to justify his miserable existence. He's interested in people and what motivates them. When he's following someone, he has a certain set of rules, such as not pursuing women along dark alleys at night. He's a keen observer, but not a predator of any kind. He follows people of any gender, watches what they do, and then leaves.
Bill's problems begin when he breaks one of his biggest rules, and decides to follow the same person more than once. The man calls himself Cobb (Alex Haw), and after noticing that he's being followed, he confronts Bill and questions him. Cobb dresses, acts, and sounds like a successful man, which is in total contrast to Bill's scruffy appearance and less formal way of speaking.
Minor spoiler coming:
Cobb allows Bill to look inside the bag he's carrying, and Bill realizes that it's full of goods that are presumably stolen. The two form a kind of partnership, and start to do burglaries together.
I'm not going to reveal any more specific information, but I want to talk generally about the plot structure, and the overall feel of the film. The plot is fragmented, jumping around in time. If you have seen Memento, you'll recognize the style immediately. Bill's appearance changes, and is always a clue as to the timeline. As he's a writer, there's also a strong possibility that some of the events are things that he is imagining for a future story.
Another key element is the music. It reminds me a little of Angelo Badalementi's work, and it wouldn't be too out of place in a David Lynch film. The film was shot in black and white with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, so be prepared for that. Following was originally shot using 16 mm film, giving the piece a raw feel which suits the story, but the Criterion presentation is superb. The Blu-ray also includes the option to use an updated 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, as well as the original mono. Like the Memento DVD, the special features offer the chance to see events in chronological order.
After viewing the film a second time, I noticed that events had a different meaning because I was in full possession of the facts. Seemingly random encounters have more meaning because some of the people are recognizable. You'll probably ask yourself a lot of questions the first time you watch the events unfold. How does the character know that? Why is he doing that? Why is she acting that way? All of those questions will be answered by the end of the film, so trust that Nolan knows what he is doing and enjoy the ride. The revelations in the final 20 minutes will make you question everything you've seen up to that point, and then smile as you understand the logic.
Following cost around $6,000 to make, and grossed just $43,000, but Nolan hasn't made a weak film yet and this deserves to be seen. Although it runs for just 69 minutes, it feels as though it's crammed with ideas. The acting, story, dialogue and music blend together well, and Following is something that you'll probably want to see many times if you appreciate Nolan's style. Buy the Criterion and check it out for yourself.
Overall score 4.5/5