I think it’s a given for any story in the noir genre to have its protagonist get in over their head and then get promptly screwed over by the hands of fate. Cynical narration and black-and-white photography available with the territory, if need be. For those reasons, it is – alongside horror – probably one of the easiest film genres to work with for budding filmmakers… and one of the most cliché-filled, as a result. Have your hero a writer struggling for new material? Have him or her face a sort of existential crisis? Reference classic works of art and literature? Tick, tick and tick.
As the saying goes, everyone’s gotta start somewhere, somehow. James Cameron can sometimes allude to his experiences of filming Piranha Part II: The Spawning as his foot through the door. Robert Rodriguez infamously sold his body for medicine to fund his micro-budgeted, wildly entertaining El Mariachi (he managed to pay the fees back following the film’s success). And so it is with writer/director Christopher Nolan with his 1998 debut: Following.
The film, which follows (har, har) an aspiring young writer (Jeremy Theobald) shadows the London public to find inspiration for his work, only to run into a master burglar (Alex Haw) who is all too keen to teach him the tricks of his trade, is a little rough around the edges. Nolan shot the film over the course of a few months during the weekends to the convenience of his cast (made up of his friends and relatives), with little to no professional equipment, under a shoestring budget of 6,000 pounds. So it’s a little natural if the acting isn’t up to par with the latest Oscar-baiters, if the film doesn’t look as slick as the latest multiplex offering, if some of the dialogue sounded like pure amateur hour, or even if the pacing is a little uneven although clocking in at a brisk 71 minutes.
And yet… because Nolan’s direction makes it compelling viewing, because the notion of studio glamour and glitz has been stripped down to its barest essentials, the movie works. It is a work of true pulp, set in a world where the sun doesn’t shine. The film looks and sounds hypnotic – maybe it’s the way the film was put together – its non-linear editing, lucid and gritty cinematography, ambient score by Nolan regular David Julyan… it all works. Without Nolan’s determination, his knack for good storytelling and delivery of key moments, the film wouldn’t work.
Although not a great film, Following kick-starts a brilliant career greatly, which can be witnessed in Nolan’s future endeavors.
[★★★★] out of [★★★★★]