Movie Review – Following (1999)


A young man wants to be a writer. In his tight little London flat, he sits by the window and types away on a typewriter at a crawling pace. He is out of ideas. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t got any. So he takes to the streets, following strangers randomly and observing where they go and what they do. One day he follows a man wearing a suit and carrying a large sports bag into a coffee shop. On his way out, the suit sits down at the writer’s table and tells him he knows he’s been following him. They get to know one another. The suit happens to be a burglar.

We follow this writer, Bill (Jeremy Theobald), or at least that’s the name he sometimes uses, as he follows an amateur thief, Cobb (Alex Haw) on a daily basis. Cobb explains that his psychology behind the art of stealing is, apparently not actually about making money. He likes entering others’ homes, feeling the adrenaline pumping, and he likes to introduce chaos into their lives. Cobb says about material possessions, “you take it away and show them what they had.” People think hard about what to keep and what to buy once they’d been burgled, and Cobb believes that his stealing awakens awareness in others. And Bill buys it. Bill eventually becomes a thief himself; he drops the goatee, long hair, and leather jacket and wears a suit just like Cobb does.

This film is a precursor to director Christopher Nolan’s contemporary classic Memento (2000) in the way that a story is told through a fragmented timeline. This film begins somewhere the end without ruining anything that is to come, and in a way it is a “flashback” film; what we see throughout is Bill telling his story to a man who may or may not be a cop. He speaks in the past tense and so the fragmented segments are a recollection of his memories. And we all know that memories are not linear so in this film, the style works. It also works in the way that a con develops throughout and we don’t see it coming because the structure disallows us from doing so.

Bill eventually meets a woman (Lucy Russell) at a bar, and they strike up a weird relationship. She wants him to buy her a drink but doesn’t want to sleep with him. Then she leaves early and follows him to his apartment. She claims that her boyfriend owns the bar they were just in, that he’s dangerous and that she doesn’t want to talk about him. But Bill, now going by Daniel, wants to know the details. Now, what does this woman have to do with Cobb? Why are there two separate storylines and do they ever converge? You bet! It’s the art of misdirection and this film tells of a great con.

Such is Christopher Nolan’s feature film debut, shot in grainy black and white film and mostly handheld; the cinematography is creepy in the way that England is shown as drab and claustrophobic, as usual. The actors are unknown. Jeremy Theobald hasn’t played in anything more than this film, an episode in a TV series, and a bit part in Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005). Alex Haw did nothing at all before or after. And it’s very disappointing because their performances are really good here. Haw resembles Rupert Everett in looks and style and Theobald has a commanding British voice. The performances are more than art house, they seem legit.

The great thing about the DVD, besides a commentary track by Nolan himself, is that there is an option to play the film with the scenes rearranged in chronological order. Having viewed the film “properly” once, I can assure audiences their jaws will still hit the floor at the end of this film.

This is still my favorite Nolan film even though Memento is fantastic and so are the much needed and deserved Batman reboots. I watch this film from time to time and marvel at just how good it is and I wonder whether Nolan ever looks back. This is a personal film from him in the way that as a first time filmmaker, this is a passion project. And the fact that it works on every level is great, especially seeing that he was eventually given several chances to prove himself as a good director and storyteller. The Dark Knight, which he also co-wrote with his brother Jonathan, was proof enough that we could rest assured that he is the real deal and one of the best filmmakers to have come from England in a long time.


Possibly Related Posts: (Commentary Track generated)

Read Geoff’s review of The Dark Knight.

8 responses to “Movie Review – Following (1999)

  1. I just happen to have this DVD at home in my to-be-watched stack. I’ll have to put it in the player soon.

  2. VERY soon…

  3. Richard Winters

    This is also a favorite of mine as well. I have seen it many times and never get tired of watching it. I always pick up on something new each viewing.

  4. I love the Batman logo on the writer’s apartment door.

  5. Well, it took a while after all :) but I’m having an at-home movie marathon and just watched this. Nolan really excels at the mind games!

    What do you make of the bit in the second half where the screen goes to script pages? Also, “Cobb”: does Nolan just like the name, or is he suggesting a connection between the characters/films by bestowing it on the hero in Inception? Maybe it’s just another mind game for his fans to ponder….

    • I don’t recall a scene in the film with just script pages…

      As for Cobb, I believe it’s a throwback to “Following”. Nolan likes to repeat the protagonist in his films in the way that they’re all terribly flawed and broken individuals. I like them; all except Batman and Wolverine starring in “The Prestige”.

      • It’s a curious scene. “Bill” goes to see “Cobb” and gets beat up. Except we don’t see the confrontation, we only hear it. The audio continues normally while the video changes to filmed script pages. But the pages are heavily emendated (marginalia, lines scratched through etc) so the soundtrack never _exactly_ matches the “script.”

        There’s a lot going on here. Outside of this scene we’re starting to learn that Cobb has been playing Bill according to his own script, so to speak. Bill says he’s a writer, says his motive for going along with Cobb is to gather material. Cobb “reads” people’s lives from their possessions and also “writes” their lives, constructs new narratives for them by planting objects, rearranging, disrupting. Even more meta, we can read the scene as a commentary on constructing the film’s narrative; as a reminder that this is a very highly constructed film.

        • Yup. The DVD has the ability to play the film in chronological order and it still messes with your mind, and the ending still comes out of left field.


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