|'juxtaposed with ‘that’ hairstyle and a judicious picture of Marilyn Monroe, conjures up memories of classic 50’s and 60’s femme fatales'|
Back in November 1999 a sadly un-credited staff reviewer for British magazine Total Film made the following claim in conclusion to a rather ambitious review of a little-known British film; ‘The director is already at work in Hollywood on his second feature: this debut, which clocks in at just 70 minutes, may ultimately be seen to be as significant as Blood Simple or Shallow Grave.’
The director he talks about is Christopher Nolan and the film is his first work, Following, which has received inflated critical attention in recent years due, largely, to the Batman films but also partially due to the film the reviewer talks about above which, of course, eventually became the groundbreaking, Memento.
To say that the reviewer showed extreme foresight in tacking the final claim on to the review is understating and gambling in the extreme. Following would be a good example of an ‘A’ class work at say, college or university level, but it hardly aspires to the classic the reviewer seems to be describing.
As pointed out, Nolan does show a fantastic grip of dramatic structure and contrivance and whilst his first film doesn’t quite manipulate the viewer as much as his second, his appreciation of how bending structure can alter appearance is advanced and well presented here.
As a film in its own right though, Following falls short. Firstly, Nolan finds it very hard here, and subsequently in Memento to create any character his audience can sympathise or even indentify with. The initial protagonist (Jeremy Theobald) is pathetic in the extreme and whilst Alex Haw as Cobb might initially get our interest his character changes don’t warrant holding on to it.
Nolan isn’t helped by either of the above actors who do a fair job for the level they’re at, but never excel or completely convince in their characters. The exception to the main trio then is Lucy Russell as ‘The Blonde’ whose performance is shot beautifully by Nolan and juxtaposed with ‘that’ hairstyle and a judicious picture of Marilyn Monroe, conjures up memories of classic 50’s and 60’s femme fatales. It’s her that you remember afterwards and it’s telling that out of the three she has gone on to have the most extensive career in television and otherwise.
In his review, our anonymous film critic cites such influences as Hitchcock and film noir (the film is shot in moody, occasional soft focus, black and white). While Nolan doesn’t quite reach these heights here, it is only his first, amateurish, effort and the fact he is aspiring this high should be the least that is needed to prove to us that have doubts about Following that early on, he was destined to be a success.