The cast/crew bit: written & directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Jeremy Theobauld and Alex Haw
The ten-word synopsis: Writer who follows people for material gets involved in dodginess.
In 1996, a young man called Christopher Nolan, who made a living by producing corporate training videos, set out with the aim of making a feature film. Having written a script inspired by a robbery that happened to him not too long beforehand, he roped in a friend, with whom he had previous made a short film, and his girlfriend, and a couple of others he knew, to help. 15 years later, this man is one of the most successful movie directors on the planet, both critically and commercially.
Following is the first film made by Christopher Nolan, the much-acclaimed director of the likes of The Dark Knight, Inception and Memento. Done on a budget of £5000, it’s a far cry from the massive production values of his latest work, this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises. Despite this, Nolans’ ability to tell a story and to investigate interesting characters remains just as clear in both. Following is about a young writer, (referred to as ‘Bill’, but credited only as ‘the man’) played by Nolans’ friend Jeremy Theobauld, who follows people to gain inspiration for his scribblings. However, the stalking of one man in particular, the man who notices him, gets him thrown into an underworld of robbers who play with the mind and thugs who don’t play with anything much at all. I don’t want to give anything much away, as there are some fascinating twists and turns along the way, twists that have remained secret to the public thanks to the films’ relative obscurity. (All 70 minutes of it are avalible on YouTube if you haven’t seen it)
The dialogue is sharp and smart. In fact, a lot of it is far sharper and smarter than Nolans’ later work, seeing as the film hangs on the characters being interesting, without the budget to involve fight scenes. (There is one brief scuffle, but it’s hardly Bane breaking out on a plane) The film also sticks to the trademark Nolan storytelling technique of everything being out of sequence, as also seen in Memento and The Prestige. It’s far more obvious which timeline we’re in here, with the lead character being physically different depending on when in the film we are, as opposed to Memento, although half the joy of that was trying to piece together where and when everything happened. Instead, it’s used as an interesting storytelling technique, and certainly peaks the interest and sets up the mysteries hidden within the film better than a straight-up, traditional, chronological telling would have done.
The cast is also very impressive for a no-budget film. While none of them are Academy Award standard, they’re functional enough for you to believe them in the role and, as such, perhaps having no-namers helps to craft these into characters that stand alone, without needing comparison to the actors other work. (Theobauld later went on to appear in Batman Begins) And as the film was shot mostly in the Casts’ own apartments and Nolans’ parents house, the fact that it feels cinematic is a major triumph. Perhaps the black and white aesthetic helped with that, as it really hits home the film noir feel Nolan claimed to be going for.
Even before his breakthrough picture Memento, Following cemented Nolans’ place as a filmmaker of real class. He pieced together an interesting story, with characters I’m willing to watch, identified the means to do it, and made the film, despite the huge struggles production faced. Even if you ignore the fact that it has no stars, no budget and no experience behind it, Following is a good film in its own right. Christopher Nolan is one of the finest directors working at the moment, and it’s certainly worth looking through his complete back-catalogue, not just highlighting the bigger productions such as Inception or The Prestige. This young man has certainly made a big impression.
6 Batman logos on doors out of 10