When it stopped being random, that's when it started to go wrong.
Christopher Nolan gets a lot of flack from art film snobs. His solemnly highbrow treatment of traditionally low genres has earned many of his movies an exalted place on popular user-powered movie rating websites — incurring the resentment of many who question whether his best films truly merit inclusion in conversations of the great films and him in consideration of the great directors. Even though I’m not strictly elitist — prior to this month, I had seen all of Nolan’s features except for his first and most recent, and liked all of them to varying degrees — I’m not immune to Nolan-fatigue. I find his movies, typically, ambitious gimmicks, bracing at their best, occasionally tapping into something much stronger, but rarely worth thinking about afterward. Aside from his strikingly human superhero trilogy, ironically, Nolan doesn't seem nearly as interested in people as he is in high concepts, neutralizing one of my major points of engagement. His debut feature, Following, with its necessarily more intimate scale, could have been one of Nolan's most character-centered and psychologically probing movies, but instead is full of hints at the less-personal interests that would continue to dominate his projects.
Following takes an intriguing premise — a young man (Jeremy Theobald) follows strangers out of compulsion — and, rather than exploring the dramatic implications of this transgressive pastime, Nolan uses it as garnish for a typical, twisty crime thriller. Nolan's command of pacing and plot development are on display, as is his fetish for fractured narrative chronology; but it's all in the service of plot mechanics and means very little. For a low budget film, the acting is wholly competent, if not particularly charismatic, and the black and white photography is well-used, just not to any end that transcends the limits of the script's convoluted tropes. It's easy to see how Nolan used Following as a stepping stone toward his somewhat similar and far superior sophomore effort, Memento; in that alone, it's a successful, modest debut worthy of note even if its own merits are negligible.
Following was brought to the Potluck Film Fest by Connor Ryan Adamson. He ranks it on his Flickchart at #376 / 1253 (70%), making it his ninth favorite out of nine Christopher Nolan films. It ranked on my Flickchart at #2048 (49%), putting it at number 8 on my chart of 9 Christopher Nolan movies.
This month's movies can also be found on this Letterboxd list, here: