I am reviewing this today as a fan of Christopher Nolan. I decided to review this movie first so I wouldn’t come off as merely another raving fan-girl. “Following” is the first feature length film by Christopher Nolan, and therefore has many stylistic elements that he has continued to use but this film is still very rough around the edges. Since it was his first full-length film and he was under a tight budget I do not blame him or the production team for this. Thus, I am going to mostly focus on the story for this movie, which seems fitting since Christopher Nolan studied English Literature during college and has proven time and time again with his other films that he understands story structure extremely well.
Right, so the first thing about this story that I have trouble with is simply the timeline. The DVD actually has two options for watching this movie which are “watch it the way it was originally edited” or “watch the movie in chronological order”. I do have a rule about watching a movie twice before I review it, but I decided in this case to watch it once normally and once chronologically. While I must admit that watching the story unfold chronologically was less interesting, it did make a lot more sense. It was easier to trace Cobb’s plan (oh yeah, the antagonist is named Cobb, fancy that) and it made the relationship with “the blonde” much easier to follow. That being said, the original order is unusual and harder to follow due to the short time frame of the film, but foreshadows at what Nolan ends up doing with Memento. The movie doesn’t go backwards, obviously, but the tendency to play around with timelines has definitely been there from the beginning. While I don’t think it did the story justice for this film, Nolan has learned to do it much better since.
The main problem I had as far as the timeline goes is how unclear everything was in the first few burglary scenes. The characters talk about the different robberies as though they all happened on different days, yet costumes worn by the characters suggest that they all happened on the same day. If “Bill” is the second person they rob, presumably right after the first robbery, how would he have had time to buy a mat just to put a key under it? I’m not sure if there were finer details in the costumes that I missed that would have tipped me off, such as a change of shirts underneath their jackets or something, but if there was it was so subtle that I couldn’t tell the difference. The only thing that suggests that these scenes don’t take place in the same day is that in the original cut these scenes are interspersed with other scenes that chronologically occur later. I suppose the intention was to visually separate these scenes to make it seem like they didn’t occur on the same date, but a little more is needed. Anyway, timeline continuity is a girl’s best friend and I missed it in this movie.
Other than the timeline problems, I actually really enjoyed this story. I thought the character development was pretty good and they got some pretty good actors considering their budget (by good I do not necessarily mean well known, however). There are a few things that aren’t really explained, but they don’t have to be. For instance, why would “Bill” get involved with Cobb and his robberies if he doesn’t like robbery? This did come across my mind, but I was able to immediately answer it myself by remembering that “Bill” had said in the beginning that the following started because he was lonely. Nolan and Jeremy Theobald do pull off this character well (writing and acting) just by portraying him as completely and utterly lonely and naïve. I do sort of feel bad for him as a character, but have to agree with Cobb and “the blonde” that he’s the perfect fall guy.
One thing I will say about the aesthetics of the film is I’m not sure whether or not it was necessary to film this movie in black and white. I understand that this is supposed to be a neo-noir film, but I feel like the story covers that aspect well enough. The viewer (most likely) doesn’t need this to be in black and white to tell us it’s a noir film. If Christopher Nolan ever decides to re-visit this, I hope he re-makes it in color.
I apologize for the short review, but I honestly feel like anything else I could say would just be nit-picking about production quality, which really isn’t fair considering how small the budget was for this film. Yes, there were some sound problems (being able to hear things in the background that are clearly not intended and the like), but overall this movie was pretty good once you remember what little everyone was working with. I do recommend this movie to anyone that enjoys Christopher Nolan films or noir films in general.