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'Following' the Twisting Path of Sinister, Neo Noir Intrigue

Movie Review

June 04, 1999|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Following" is a taut, ingenious British neo noir in which its central character is a seedy young man (Jeremy Theobald) living a marginal existence so severe that he becomes obsessed with the act of following people. The intent is not to do them any harm, but simply to learn about their lives. He tells himself he's gathering material for the writing he plans to do, but what he's really doing is trying to fill up a remarkably empty life.

Inevitably, this young man is caught in the act--by another young man, Cobb (Alex Haw), who's well-dressed, confident and determined to confront his follower. Understandably defensive at first, the young man is astonished to discover in Cobb a man who convinces him that he too is a curiosity-filled follower.

But Cobb is soon taking the young man several steps further, introducing him to the thrills of breaking and entering. Cobb for sure has more sinister motives in mind, but writer-director-cinematographer Christopher Nolan keeps us guessing as to what they finally may be. He also makes you feel increasingly repelled by the duo's systematic, ultimately obscene-seeming invasion of other people's privacy.

Meanwhile, the young man meets a cool, well-dressed blond (Lucy Russell) who has a nicely furnished apartment. She seems to be a no-illusions dame looking out for No. 1--straight out of '40s Hollywood noir. Nolan plays mischievously with the plot he has so deftly set up, moving back and forth in time and mood, alternately revealing and concealing information, as if he were toying with a kaleidoscope. As tension builds steadily we begin to feel ever more keenly that the young man is getting in over his head. But into what and why?

"Following," which Nolan shot as well as wrote and directed, is a black-and-white B-movie made with an intricate, almost claustrophobic intensity. As a psychological mystery it plays persuasively if not profoundly. Nolan relishes the sheer nastiness he keeps stirred up, unabated for 70 minutes. You can, too, provided you don't ask more of it.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: language, adult themes and situations.

'Following'

Jeremy Theobald: The Young Man

Alex Haw: Cobb

Lucy Russell: The Blond

John Nolan: The Policeman

A Zeitgeist Films release. Writer-director-cinematographer Christopher Nolan. Producers Emma Thomas, Nolan & Theobald. Executive producer Peter Broderick. Editors Gareth Heal, Nolan. Music David Julyan. Production designer Tristan Martin. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379.

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