In every artist’s early work, you can usually see hints of the work they did years later. This has never been truer than in the case of Following by director Christopher Nolan. Written and directed by a young Christopher Nolan, this was his debut feature. The fragmented film is the story of Bill, not that the audience is ever sure that that’s the character’s real name. Bill is a writer who, when following people out of interest, is confronted by a victim of his curiosity. The man, Cobb, is a thief who draws the unknowing Bill into a story of robberies, twists and murder. The plot has all the makings of a neo-noir film – the antiheros, the light and shadows and the backstabbing femme fatale.
When looking at all of Christopher Nolan’s movies like The Prestige, Batman Begins and especially Memento, you can see his fascination with changing the way time works in his films. In both The Prestige and Batman Begins, the story is told with flashbacks; in Memento the film is told backwards and in Following the story is told in a nonlinear fashion. Even if the audience didn’t know previously that the films were created by Nolan, it would be easy to tell after if they were fans. Although there seems to be no real reason for the disconnected plot, it gave the fairly predictable plot a feeling of originality or instead it can be seen as a bit of novelty.
You would never know by looking at his current films that Nolan could make a film without a booming soundtrack, his usual entourage of actors and impressive special effects. Usually looked at as a bad thing when it comes to film making, Nolan only had a $6000 budget but instead of creating a low quality bad movie, he seemed to thrive with the miniscule amount. Every scene seemed carefully thought out and executed which makes sense when you find out that most of the budget was spent on film stock.
Because of the need for economical spending, Nolan used a majority of natural lighting for the film. With it being filmed in black and white, the lighting actually suits it a lot better than artificial light would. Other than this though, there is no obvious artistic reason the film should have been shot in black and white.
With an inexperienced cast mainly made up of Nolan’s friends, family and even the owner of the club they used as a set at one point, they were actually quite impressive. Jeremy Theobald, who played the young man/Bill gives off a creepy voyeuristic feel. Even his relationship with The Blonde (Lucy Russell) is very overly obsessive, although this should be obvious seeing as he doesn’t take an interest in her until after he rummages through her things in a routine robbery in her home. However, instead of being treated as a bad person he is instead played off as the typical anti-hero, with him wanting to eventually turn in the bad guys near the end and instead getting framed himself.
Cobb, played by Alex Haw (now an architect despite his acting talent), is a sleazy guy who hides all the crooked part of his nature behind a charming and ‘wise’ exterior. He seemed so untrustworthy from the start, and his friendship with Bill so manipulative that the last twist wasn’t much of a surprise. It was easy to see how he effortlessly dragged Bill into the underworld of robbing houses during the day.
The woman in the film only known as The Blonde, played by Lucy Russell, may have been the only actor that almost let the film down. She seemed to let down the classic ‘femme fatale’ persona seen in all noir films, even if this was a modern take on the classic genre. She didn’t have that mysterious and dangerous air to her that there should have been and it didn’t feel as though the sex appeal Russell tried to exude really worked. It was only surprising that she turned out to be a bad guy only because it was hard to believe she had any kind of emotion for the situation.
The screenplay is witty and charming in its dialogue and calls forward to the exchanges between the characters in Nolan’s later film, Inception. The editing, that gives you quick glimpses and hints of the future twists, is well done and the cinematography is artistic. The film that was almost entirely created by Nolan is the perfect way for diehard fans to see the natural born film maker in his early element.