Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Cheap Thrills

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Cheap Thrills

Article excerpt


JONATHAN ROMNEY enjoys a low-budget high

To say that Christopher Nolan's Following is a quiet, discreet sort of pleasure is in no way to belittle it. I don't mean it's just a clever low-budget British independent thriller. I mean it's a film genuinely on the margins of things, a film that operates stealthily, deviously, along the lines of a covert mission.

It was shot on film for a remarkably low budget (reputedly for an initial [pounds]3,500), at weekends only, with a cast who had full-time jobs, and using ordinary, familiar London locations. It also seems to have circumvented the British media grapevine - for a considerable time before its release here, the film has been building a reputation on the international festival circuit. It's somehow appropriate for such an elusive venture that its place of origin should be the last place it's heard of.

Here's the pitch. A young man - no name, of course - is telling his story to some confessor or authority figure. He explains that he used to follow people at random in the street, just out of curiosity, having nothing better to do, and out of a vague ambition to be a writer. We watch this dishevelled, nervous would-be bohemian (Jeremy Theobald) trail through the streets, and hear him tell his tale in voice-over, in a droning, uncertain um-er tone. We know things are bound to go wrong- and sure enough, we see him lying on the ground, hair trimmed, clean-shaven, wearing a suit, but with rubber gloves stuffed in his mouth. We make the connection - we've already seen gloved hands handling a box of objects at the start - but whose hands, and whose objects, and why the suit suddenly? We notch up the first set of unanswered questions and move on. The questions, naturally, accumulate.

The young man is caught out by the man he's been following, a confident sharp-suited smoothie (Alex Haw) who announces himself as Cobb. He's a burglar. If our man really fancies himself as a writer, he should tag along and find out how it's done. So he gets involved. Then he meets a mysterious femme fatale, credited only as the Blonde: she's played with cool wryness by Lucy Russell, as the kind of platinum vamp who hasn't really haunted London since Ruth Ellis's day. She's involved with some sort of underworld heavy. And so the plot thickens - except that for every thickening, there's an unravelling, too, and we're caught in a constant to and fro, as Nolan keeps explaining a little more, and providing more narrative clues to make us backtrack and reconfigure our guesses so far.

Nolan's method is to cut disconcertingly from one narrative strand to another, flouting chronology in a trimmer, less impressionistic version of the Nicolas Roeg manner. The story is about following, remember - we're following the convoluted story of a man following his unwitting targets. …

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