Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan
Director: Christopher Nolan
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 70 Minutes
Release Date: December 11, 2012
“You’re developing a taste for it. The violating, the voyeurism…it’s definitely you.”
Has any filmmaker been on the kind of run of late as Christopher Nolan has? In eight movies, he has yet to deliver anything less than brilliant. His breakthrough movie Memento is still my pick for best film of the millennium so far. He, of course, helmed the Dark Knight trilogy, three of the most satisfying, character-driven and perfect comic book films. In between, there was Inception, a dazzling vision of pure cinematic originality that blew our minds open again and again.
But if you want to see how it all began, you have to go back to 1999 and a small black and white movie he made with his friends over the course of many weekends. That movie was called Following. It had no budget, no stars…and yet, Nolan overcame all of that to deliver an early vision worthy of the great cinematic storyteller he…well, frankly, always was, even if it took 3 more years for the rest of the world to see that.
Even at the beginning of his career, Nolan showed a flair and gift for fracturing a timeline to bring out the best in the story. In Memento, he did it to keep us in the frame of mind of a character with no short-term memory. In Following, he does it to craft a perfect noir. Sometimes we know more than the characters on the screen, which adds suspense where there might not have been any.
It starts with the confession of a young writer who calls himself “Bill” (Theobald). He informs us of an unusual and possibly dangerous habit he’s picked up: he likes to pick out random people and just follow them and observe. Is it for a new novel? Possibly…but intruding from a distance on private lives seems to be something he does more and more simply for enjoyment.
His rule is to keep his targets random, but lately, he has been trailing a young man with a bag more and more. Eventually, the man confronts him in a coffee shop. It turns out, his name is Cobb (Haw), and he’s a burglar. Instead of exposing Bill’s secret, he makes an offer too good to pass up: he invites Bill to come with him on some of his jobs.
Cobb doesn’t seem to burglarize for economic reasons, but more for the thrill of seeing inside other people’s private lives and moments. He teaches Bill the secrets of the trade, which in his case, is not just about removing valuables, but going through photos, clothes drawers, and more: painting a picture of the people who live there based on what things are most important to them.
I really don’t want to delve further into the plot, because it takes some delightful and intriguing twist and turns. One involves Bill becoming romantically infatuated with a blonde (Russell), who is tied to a dangerous thug, and whose home Bill and Cobb visited before.
Instead, I’d like to share just ONE instance of how serviceable and brilliant Nolan’s fractured timeline can be. In one scene, Bill is with the blonde in her flat. When she steps out of the room, he lifts the lid on the piano bench. He’s obviously looking for something. Later, in a flashback, we see Bill and Cobb doing their job in her flat. Cobb takes one from a pair of earrings from her dresser and places it in the piano bench, just to mess with her. Now we know what Bill was looking for. But why wasn’t it there when he looked? Hmm…
The best filmmakers don’t allow lack of resources to interfere with their solid visions. Think of some of the best debut films ever: Night of the Living Dead, Clerks, Pi…all reflect what a talented artist can do in spite of, or sometimes because of, no real money to play with.
At 70 minutes, this is a tight, effective thriller that is so well crafted that both my wife and I had dreams about the movie after seeing it. And while some major filmmakers might look back at their debut effort and cringe (think James Cameron and Piranha II), Christopher Nolan showed right out of the gate that he was an artist of unique vision and ability…and again, after eight movies, he has yet to make a misstep.
BONUS TRIVIA: Life imitating art? The door of Bill’s flat has a Batman logo.
This film was shot cheaply, on the fly, and in black and white…there was no real budget for cinematography (in fact, Nolan helmed the camera himself). That being said, there is a nice sense of contrast here, and though some of the footage is understandably grainy, this is still a solid viewing experience.
Hard to believe a no-budget movie would get a 5.1 surround mix, but leave it to Criterion to deliver the goods. The audio is adequate; spoken words are clean and clear throughout, and for the most part, that’s the sound that drives the film.
The extras include a commentary track and a new interview with Christopher Nolan, plus a linear edit of the film, comparisons of the film and shooting script, some trailers, and an early short film from 1997 called “Doodlebug” from Nolan…it has some pretty impressive visuals for a little movie with no money.
If you only know Christopher Nolan from The Dark Knight movies, you really owe yourself the favor of checking out his complete body of work, in which every film is truly a masterpiece. Thanks to Criterion, you can even experience his first picture Following and see for yourselves what an incredible talent this man was, even out of the gate.