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You might want to take along a bridgetable and a
pitcher of lemonade when you go see Following. Its a film that offers more
pleasure as a jigsaw puzzle than it does as a movie.
Theobald) is a would-be writer whose malaise manifests itself as a compulsion to follow
complete strangers as they make their daily rounds. When one of his targets, a suave,
sharply dressed man named Cobb (Alex Haw), catches him at his game, Bill is intrigued to
learn that Cobb is a burglar with some strange ideas about his trade: he thinks hes
doing his victims an existential service by robbing them. Bill begins escorting Cobb on
his capers (some of the most slackly filmed crimes ever captured on film), and even starts
dating one of their victims. The story eventually hinges on a string of seemingly
insignificant and unrelated events that turn out to have unforeseeable ominous
The debut feature of
British writer-director Christopher Nolan, Following is one of those neo-noirs
like Shallow Grave that depend on quirky directorial effects and unearned cynicism
to score its points. Made on the cheap, its a ramshackle doghouse of a movie whose
parts have been stripped from sturdier structures. Body Heat, in particular, must
have a gaping hole in its side Nolan not only re-tailors its ending to suit his own
purposes, he outright steals the face-slapping episode in the bar. Following is
unimaginatively shot (in grainy black and white), and since a key element in the movie is
the supposedly unique personality of the victims flats, its dismaying that
every setting in the film be it townhouse, barroom, or fire escape has
exactly the same atmosphere.
central gimmick a liberal use of flashbacks and flash-forwards works to keep
us off balance. At different points were forced to guess how Bill will eventually
come to be lying on the ground, blowing a surgical glove out of his mouth, finger by
finger; and in order to keep up with the plot, we have to make ourselves look past a
ghastly black eye which he sports in intermittent scenes. But these time-jumps only arouse
suspicion that Nolan didnt know how to make an interesting picture without them. He
seems to have lost all touch with his material the second he conceived it, so that the
film abounds in unmotivated actions and missed opportunities. When Bill is following Cobb
at the beginning, why dont we see Cobb mysteriously entering a series of odd houses?
(The views of him we do get wouldnt make us follow him for half a block.) Why
arent the scenes of Bill succumbing to Cobbs allure fleshed out? Whats
the point of the earring that Bill hides in the piano bench in one of the victims
Its also no
help that Nolan decided to fill his perfect nobody characters with perfect nobody actors.
Haw, with his granitic features and stiff manner, tries in vain to appear worldly and
sleek. (Cobb has to be compelling for the movie to work.) And Theobald, who looks like
what Steve Buscemi might look like if Buscemi were an earthling, simply isnt
expressive enough to hold the screen. Except for one brief shot of him sitting frazzled in
front of his typewriter, he barely registers at all. Only Lucy Russell, as the woman who
gets caught up in the mens machinations, turns in a flesh-and-blood performance.
virtue is its brevity. Its smart enough to stop after 70 minutes only
slightly longer than a single episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a TV series
that the film recalls with its thumbnail exposition and O. Henry-gone-bad ending.
Its just too bad that what could have been an acidic little ode to the art of
manipulation is content to offer up nothing more than some recycled date-movie nihilism.
- Tom Block