Christopher Nolan pulls off one of the great movie scams in Following¸ a film that made clear to the world that here was a budding filmmaker of imagination, wit, and resource. The challenges of producing a no-budget film are disheartening to any serious artist, but Nolan and his collaborators make it look easy with a devilishly clever script, first-rate performances, and guerilla shooting in and around London that gives the picture a marvelously seedy and dyspeptic atmosphere. What a great way to start what has become an already distinguished career!
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 70 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; PCM 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: December 11, 2012
Review Date: December 5, 2012
A young man who occasionally calls himself Bill (Jeremy Theobald) is an unemployed writer, and to give him fodder for characters and plots, he begins following various people around London as they pursue their daily business. After tracking a man who later comes to be known as Cobb (Alex Haw) for several days, he learns that Cobb is a burglar, and as he accompanies Cobb on a job or two, he becomes intrigued with the entire operation. One of the places they burglarize belongs to a perky blonde (Lucy Russell) whom Bill soon becomes enamored with. He learns that she needs some incriminating photos that are being kept in her former boy friend’s safe, and he’s only to happy to get them for her using his new-found confidence in pulling off thefts. But he’s in for a series of surprises once he pulls off the job.
Christopher Nolan has chosen not to tell his story linearly, so there are intriguing brief cuts of Bill sporting a beaten face or a clean-cut look that we wait to happen in real time adding an air of danger and mistrust to what we’re witnessing unfold before us. A little over halfway through the movie, Nolan offers up a piece of his labyrinthine mystery puzzle that puts the audience in a situation of being for the first time more knowledgeable than Bill which also pays significant dividends for the additional ironies to come. Like his next film Memento, the way the information is laid out for the viewer aids immeasurably in the movie’s surprises landing with a maximum impact, and by the time we get to see the full picture, we’re stunned with the amount of planning and calculations which had to fall exactly into place for the dastardly scheme to succeed. And yet, as with another triple cross whammy of a movie Body Heat, we at the same time ache for the poor dupe and yet feel satisfied with the puzzle pieces all falling into place as they do. Nolan shot the film mostly with a handheld camera, and it’s perfect to lend a jittery energy to the ambiance of the movie. The black and white noir-ish feel is perfect for the story of these unscrupulous people.
Jeremy Theobald makes for an appealing though blank-faced protagonist, his visage perfectly capturing the innocence of a man unaware of a scam until it’s too late to rectify what he’s done. Lucy Russell falls into the standard mold of the femme fatale doing exactly what she needs to do to play her part in the piece. Alex Haw has the poker-faced slickster down pat duping not only Bill but also the audience for quite a large piece of the movie.
Shot in 16mm, the film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. With those humble origins, the image quality is very nice with better than average sharpness and film grain that appears intact and unsullied in its voyage to a digital domain. Grayscale is above average, too, though black levels aren’t especially deep. But the image is completely free from artifacts of any kind. The film has been divided into 13 chapters.
Two different soundtracks are offered: the original mono track is presented in PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) and is very much what you would expect from a low budget film, but the default track is a snappier DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix that will impress you with its expansive fidelity in David Julyan’s jumpy, staccato music which has an excellent surround sensibility. Dialogue is easily discernible in both tracks and in the surround mix is never overwhelmed by effects or music.
The audio commentary is by writer-director Christopher Nolan. Though he sometimes mumbles, he does offer up the complete story of the film’s production and offers reminiscences as each scene goes by (also spoiling upcoming surprises though it’s doubtful anyone would listen to this track before watching the movie for the first time).
The bonus video features are in 1080p unless otherwise noted.
An interview with Christopher Nolan was filmed in 2010 and runs 26 ¼ minutes. He discusses the difficulties of shooting a “no budget” movie including using two different kinds of cameras but mostly a handheld, the cutting of the film in his head thus only shooting shots he needed with little or no coverage, the use of inserts, and his fondness for film noir and how he incorporated the style into his movie.
The entire film is recut and presented linearly running 70 minutes with PCM 1.0 sound.
Three scenes are presented in script-to-film side-by-side mock-ups to show how closely the director followed his own script while shooting. This runs 10 minutes.
“Doodlebug” is Nolan’s clever 1997 Twilight Zone-style short film running 3 minutes and presented in 1080i.
There are two trailers: the theatrical trailer runs 1 ¼ minutes while a re-release trailer runs 1 ½ minutes. Both are in 1080i.
The enclosed pamphlet contains cast and crew lists and an analysis of the movie by Film Society of Lincoln Center program director Scott Foundas.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4/5 (not an average)
The budding talent of an exceptional director is clearly seen in Following. Fans of Christopher Nolan will certainly be able to see influences from this film in his subsequent work, and the Criterion Blu-ray offers his first feature film with some tantalizing bonus material. Recommended!