[Written for The Stranger]
An unnamed, unemployed young man (Jeremy Theobald) fills up his empty days stalking random people, following them from a distance as they go about their daily routine. He justifies this pathetic habit by telling himself that he’s a writer, and this will be good research for his fiction, even though his output to date consists only of staring at his typewriter, the one object in his dingy, unpainted flat that appears not to have been plucked out of a garbage bin.
Inevitably, the tables must be turned; and before long, one of his subjects, the nattily dressed Cobb (Alex Haw), strides up to his table and demands an explanation: Cobb, it turns out, is a professional burglar, and sensing (perhaps) a voyeuristic soulmate, he initiates the would-be novelist into breaking and entering.
Throw in a bar-hopping blonde with a bad-news boyfriend and a safe full of money and incriminating photos, and you have the rest of Following, a witty, intelligent noir that has the admirable good sense never to think it’s cleverer than it is — and the even greater and rarer good sense not to wear out its welcome. Once its spiraling plot is wrapped tight and all the secrets revealed, Following snaps shut with a satisfying click at just a hair over 70 minutes. Efficiency like that used to be a filmmaking virtue all on its own, and director Christopher Nolan matches it with the clarity and cramped intimacy you’d expect from someone who’s self-consciously styling himself a “B” movie director. Though the film’s chronology is jumbled, he keeps the separate timelines easy to follow by charting the changes in Theobald’s face (a goatee shaved off at some point; the marks and swellings of a brutal beating diminishing as they heal); and despite some intricate double-crosses, every development in the film comes off as perfectly logical.
Unlike too many independent noirs of late, Following is constructed not to be analyzed, but merely watched and enjoyed, whether showing in hushed detail the sexual frisson of poking through a strange woman’s underwear drawer, or savoring the sadistic little smile on Cobb’s face when he shakes up a beer can before handing it over to his protégé.