By Nathanael Griffis
Following is one of those cool-hipster-film-buff-cred movies that if you haven’t seen you drop down a few notches on the cool list. So that’s truly the reason I watched it. Had nothing to do with my love of neo-noir films or that this is Christopher Nolan’s first film. This is all about being popular and getting the cool critics to like me. Quick plot synopsis: Following is a bout a man who likes to follow people, but stumbles into a web of mystery and crime.
The Poster & Trailer: This movie is pretty minimal in its advertising and that’s to be expected with a small budget film from a first-time director. I’m surprised they even have a trailer, to be honest. So we’ve got the new trendy black-and-white, grainy film to make something look raw and old. Not a bad technique, Chris Nolan, but it’s been used a little too much, kind of contrived with a been-done feel to it. Oh wait, this was made in 1998. Okay, you can get a pass. It just seems like such a cliché to make your first film in black-and-white. It’s like you’re trying to prove you’ve seen old movies. There’s just enough in the trailer to intrigue me, but not really excite me. I like neo-noir films like this, though, and have a lot of respect for Chris Nolan, so that’s a start.
The Critics: It’s got a 7.7 on IMDB and a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. Eerily similar I say. Perhaps this is no coincidence. Either these are accurate ratings or there’s some evil critic mafia controlling the way we rate films. What if Battlefield Earth is actually good, but we could never tell because we’ve been brainwashed? Either way it’s safer to go with this movie being pretty good. Most comments and reviews about this movie compare it to Memento, but the trailer gives me more of a The Man Who Wasn’t There vibe. (How’s that for film-buff cred, huh?) Most people seem to think it’s good, but not as good as Memento. I’m fascinated by sayings like this, because sometimes they spread like a virus and it becomes the only way to approach a movie. One or two critics’ little blurbs get out and that’s how we view a film. Use the phrase “better than Die Hard” and it’s hard to look at a film in any respect other than, is it better than Die Hard? I should look into this more.
Sum Up: Well, now I don’t want to look at it like a Memento-esque film. I just want to watch it, but I can’t but be entranced by the idea of seeing a filmmaker at their roots. Watching someone from their start to their continued brilliance and maturity is fun. I think I’ll get a serpentine plot that probably pulls a few punches and surprises, but all matches up together in the end. I don’t expect to be too confused, because I’m prepared to not have all the answers at first.
Results (The Review):
Just to get the obligatory answer out of the way, Memento is better. I know that’s all you all care about anyways. The non-sequential storytelling here feels more like a device to create confusion and make the surprise at the end more impactful. The brilliance of Memento is that the unique timeline makes sense and becomes a part of the story. With Following, it’s a means of keeping us in the dark, so we are constantly guessing at each turn. Ultimately, though, you won’t discover the truth till the end, which is what a good film noir mystery should do. The only caveat I have is that it should also keep you asking questions. It should not frustrate you because you know you won’t be able to discover the answer. Luckily, Following does just that. It parses up various pieces of the timeline and lets it all play out so that once you connect one piece, you wonder where the other pieces belong.
It’s perfectly paced and, to an extent, well shot and lit. I have no problems with the pacing. The way it’s shot is limited to the miniscule budget: $6,000. It shows that Nolan knows what he’s doing as a writer and a director. He didn’t push past what his budget dictated. He made a practical film story for very little and used the tools available to him. The black-and-white look fits well with the small budget, and the focus is the story telling. Nolan’s always done this, even when his films have staggering budgets like The Dark Knight and Inception: the focus is still the story.
The only real complaint I have is that the film’s lead actor Jeremy Theobald is a little weak. There are just times he seems overly surprised, like he’s not used to having someone give him good lines to read, or he honestly doesn’t realize what’s happening around him. If the latter is the case, perhaps he was just acting genuinely and should have given his character a little more credit. Alex Haw, surprisingly, never went anywhere after this. Strangely, his character’s name, “Cobb,” would pop up later in Inception, so Nolan clearly likes that name, or is there something else there, hmmmm? It’s a good movie, and at just over an hour, a short watch. It’d be great if you’re a fan of film noir and want to see the beginnings of Chirstopher Nolan.
My expectations this time around served me well. If I had gone into this film expecting something different, maybe a little more action, a little more like Memento, I would have been disappointed. I could see some viewers becoming confused and frustrated with the format. I might have thought it was gimmicky and poorly put together if I hadn’t come in with the proper expectations, but knowing what I was about to watch prepared me to run through the maze. If you expect an unusual film that will challenge you, you can prepare yourself. If this type of film sneaks up on you, you might be more inclined to see it as a boring, cheaply made experiment.
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