Perhaps the best thing you could say about Christopher Nolan’s little-Brit-indie-that-could, Following, is that it trucks in ideas thick with tarnish (post-Hitch voyeurism, the romantic schmo caught between a bruised femme and a sadistic crime lord, the peeling of onionlike layers of double cross, etc.) and still comes off goosey with sweat and anxiety. Nolan’s a first-timer, and his movie is half hand-held kitchen-sink realism (shot in moody black and white) and half curlicue plotline that, as subsequent layers of betrayal are exposed and its jigsawed time line begins to form a whole picture, cloys with archness. Moan as we might about exfilm students cranking out résumé movies whose only interface is with other movies, the Quentin Virus continues to spread. It’s too bad we cannot somehow mandate that young directors need to spend serious time with real criminals before being allowed to make a postnoir crime indie. You can bet the films would be very different, and far fewer. Following is modest and engaging, but in being strenuously clever, it surrenders any dibs it might have on being relevant, or original.
Following starts with Bill (Jeremy Theobald, who also coproduced) confessing to what may be a shrink about his penchant for shadowing randomly selected people through their day, a pastime that evolved from wannabe-writer’s research to a wasting compulsion. Taking the peeper paradigm to the streets, Nolan and his hero refreshingly shed the typical masturbating-in-the- dark-bedroom dynamic, and with it its familiar cinematic connections. But Nolan hasn’t any other core ideas on hand and, at any rate, gives the scenario’s psychosocial potential short shrift. Almost immediately into this thankfully brisk (70-minute) yarn, Theobald’s shady creep trails after Cobb (Alex Haw), a polished professional burglar who turns the tables. The two fall in together and start robbing flats, less for the valuables than for a chance to invade and explore
other people’s lives. (“You take it away,” Cobb says happily, “and you show them what they had.”) The film’s fashionable leaps back and forward in time have us understand that Bill gets involved with a gangster’s bitter girlfriend (Lucy Russell), changes his appearance to match Cobb’s, and eventually gets the crap kicked out of him.
Nothing, as they say, is what it seems. Quaintly duping both the audience and his hero, Nolan misses his opportunity to explore the fusty emotional kinks in his story. Fittingly, Theobald reeks of unexplored neuroses, but Haw, looking like Rupert Everett’s corporate lawyer twin and masticating his lines like George Sanders, camps it up in a role that’s essentially a slick screenwriter’s unlikely invention. Following asks to be taken seriously, but it’s just a riff.