In memory of Inception's awesome second weekend hold at the box office (off a mere 32% from its opening, an un-heard of event in big movie\tentpole land) and also with some time to kill, I viewed Christopher Nolan's first feature the Brit crime thriller Following, a crafty little noir from 1998. The look and scope is small, but the nimble and amusing storytelling and non-linear structure of Following serves as a nice introduction to the present day Nolan creations. The film uses elements that Nolan continually revisits; here, not unlike Inception, it's a heist film, but an atypical one. We meet a young writer with no name (played by Jeremy Theobald) whose a bit of loner, with shaggy hair who follows people. The motivations aren't particularly clear why, but he scopes people out and journeys with them in secret on their day, perhaps because he's devoid of any journey in his life. One such guy turns out to be burglar. His name is Cobb, not unlike Inception's main character, and is delightfully played by Alex Haw in what is sadly his only credit. Cobb recruits the young writer to break into peoples houses with him. From the beginning of Cobb's entrance, I was instantly reminded of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train-- I'm not quite sure it's a relevant companion film, but memories are important here, as well with Nolan film discussion.
As with most of Nolan's later films, there's rules set out on the onset, obviously meant to be broken later. Cobb details that the point of the his break-ins is not so much what is taken, but in that the burglarized people will appreciate more once something is gone. The film goes down a fairly convoluted path, but it's exciting and quite intricate. The film is available on Netflix instant play and I recommend it. Shot in beautiful black and white, this nifty, made on the extremely cheap film is actually quite sophisticated, finely displaying Nolan's expert handling of pace and control.
One thing that is apparent on his debut is the insignificance of female characters in any way. I do wish that this changes as Nolan continues to awe and delight. There's a female character in Following, and she is well played by Lucy Russell (Eric Rohmer fans will recognize her from The Lady and the Duke). However, it's a fairly icy and flimsy character, and more than a bit familiar. The trait has nastily been exhibited in Memento, Insomnia, the Batman flicks, and while I dare say I enjoyed Marion Cottilard and Ellen Page in Inception, the criticism is still fairly apt.
Of course one of his wonderful traits is exhibited as well-- he's a master at the art of the mindfuck. While the reveal in Following isn't nearly as intricate or head-spinning as Memento, where the ante was raising mightily, or Inception; there's a trap for the young writer, and it's a good one. Watching Following is almost like watching the birth of something great; I wish I saw it before he became so mind-blowingly popular, so I could authentically experience the film, without the reputation surrounding it. However, it's still a fresh, brisk (very brisk at 70 minutes) film noir that serves as a great appetizer for what would come.