Friday, August 03, 2007

Following Nolan Backwards

If Christopher Nolan takes his inspiration from his own life, he must surely live an extremely confusing life, for it takes no genius to see that the now-famous director greatly favours a fragmented narrative- though of course, now forced into the studio system with remake Insomnia and then blockbuster Batman Begins and its follow-up The Dark Knight, he's had to abandon his baffling, looping structures. But with Following, his little known debut feature, he uses the bitty narrative lines he perfected so well for his superb Memento- but the difference with Following is that the style seems to provide no discernible reason for being (if you saw Memento, you'll know it conversely did). Instead, Following's flashy script seems to deflect from the inherent weaknesses in the story- a familiar narrative jazzed up by a narrative that jumps forward, doubles back, and frames itself with the oft-used device of recounting to an authority figure (in this case the police).

In fact, Following's unwieldy narrative style is perhaps the only thing in the film that maintains much interest through the unusually short running time- 69 minutes- not only because, as I said, is the narrative distressingly simple- a naive man drawn into a criminal set-up by betraying acquaintances, not to mention the sigh-inducing "surprise" ending- but because the film is so distancingly cold. Filmed in monochromatic black-and-white, Nolan- who shot, wrote and directed the film- uses the deadening of sound to divide each scene like he's brought a guillotine down between them- despite the recurrance of moments, first a mystery then explained in context, the film seems to have no connective tissue, no interior centre. And, most crucially, the characters themselves are cold, unlikeable figures- and, while unlikeable can be fine, surely a main character has to be, in his unlikeability, an enigmatic force? But Bill, played by the distinctly weasellish actor Jeremy Theobald, is a cowardly, baffling figure, seemingly both naive and clever at once, contradicting himself too often, a pale hollow at Following's centre. Even the supposedly interesting character of Cobb (Alex Haw)- it is following him that leads Bill into the dark story- is undermined by Nolan's weak, overworked script. It is perhaps not surprising that Nolan shows a better talent with the camera- strong camerawork is apparent, and explains why, when paired with his writer brother Jonathan for Memento, a much (much) stronger film emerged. Grade: C-

No comments: