By: Muneeb Arshid
The man who has defined modern-day mainstream cinema is once again releasing what looks to be another epic this summer in Dunkirk. However, prior to the release of that film, we here at The Film Lawyers thought that it made sense to cover each and every one of the great Christopher Nolan‘s films. This means, every week from now until the release of Dunkirk on July 21st, we will present one film from the back catalog of Nolan starting this week with his first ever film. No, not Memento, that will be a film we get to next week, but a rather unknown film from back in 1998 called Following.
A film that was released in UK cinemas but also made its way around film festivals in 1998 including the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), with a very small budget leading to a small theatrical run, Following, is a film that feels like an amalgam of future works of Nolan and makes you realize the roots that he had established very early on in his filmmaking career.
Now, if you do go back and watch Following, just a word to the wise that is a black and white film and only 70 minutes long… Thank you, Mr. Nolan! Even Nolan’s films from here on started to become much longer in length but it’s always about the quality of the length. You can have a 3 hour bore of a film like any one of the Pirates of the Carribean films (a new one coming next week), or you can have epics like the Lord of the Rings or even Nolan’s very own films from the recent past like Interstellar, Inception or the Dark Knight trilogy (which we will talk about in a few weeks).
Following is the directorial debut featuring lesser-known actors from 20 years ago. It is a crime, mystery thriller, a genre that is quite common to many of Nolan’s films. The story is about a “young man” who goes by the name “Bill” (Jeremy Theobold), who is unemployed and looking for new things to do in London and finds a “job” casing people, following them to possibly find some sort of an inspiration for writing his first novel. While he is following a man dressed in a suit carrying a briefcase, the man, named Cobb (remind you of someone?) (played by Alex Haw) confronts him in a coffee shop about and recruits “Bill” for his own benefit. Now, Cobb is a burglar, but not a prototypical one at that. He enjoys the pleasure of burglary for the sake of burglary and to terrorize people in thinking that they have been burgled, rather than actually stealing valuable items. He likes to make his victims rethink their lives by making them realize what they have after it’s been taken away from them.
Bill continues to learn from Cobb, becoming enamored by the lifestyle that Cobb is living. Alongside working with Cobb, Bill comes upon a young woman at a bar only credited as The Blonde (Lucy Russell), and the two embark on a bit of a relationship. Now, what Bill doesn’t know, is that there is another nefarious plot brewing between Cobb and The Blonde and that is where the film gains its “Nolan-notoriety”. There are so many elements that you recognize from future Nolan films with a twist that is inevitably about to come. What becomes apparent, even from this early film, is Nolan’s style of filmmaking and his storytelling which has always been something that has been lauded, which shows that he had a strong start to his directorial career.
The characters are quite fleshed out considering that this is just a 70-minute film as well as a top-notch story. The budget film was quite a success even if it did not show at the box office. Black and white for this type of film was an odd choice but coupling that with the use of 16mm film stock made an ideal decision. The colour palate gives it a distinct noir feel and really enamors the viewer into this thriller. A very good choice, one that always feels like a novelty but in this case felt right.
The plot begins and feels like a very straight and narrow telling of this story, but quickly, as new characters are introduced and new situations are revealed, it is quickly dismantled that this film will be a straight storytelling film and rather a film that is about to become a phenomena for hundreds of millions of fans around the world.
What else can be said of Christopher Nolan? Well, let’s hold that thought until we get more reviews out there. I’m sure much more praise will be bestowed upon the great director in reviews to come. We’ve got 9 more reviews of his films yet to come, and some of the greatest films that have been made, especially for modern-day cinema.
Stay tuned next week for our review of Memento, where I’m sure we will get into a more detailed discussion about the style of filmmaking that Nolan likes to use. We may also talk about the Bollywood version of Memento named Ghajini starring Bollywood great Aamir Khan. However, we shall leave that for next week.
Until then, we, The Film Lawyers, give Following a grade of B (7.8/10).