Twitter Plot Summary: A writer follows other people to generate material for his writing, and recounts his meeting with a thief.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Key Cast: Jeremy Theobald, Alex How, Lucy Russell, John Nolan, Dick Bradsell
Five Point Summary:
1. It’s in Academy ratio (1.37:1)! It’s like I’m stuck in 1932!
2. He’s a very well-spoken thief.
3. The most laid-back burglaries you will ever see.
4. Come and see the violence inherent in the system!
5. Starting to make sense, but with shades of Fight Club.
Christopher Nolan’s feature length debut is a black and white tale of a man who, in a quest to create characters to spur his writing career, randomly follows strangers just to see where they go. Before long he removes the random element and starts following specific targets. Then one target, Cobb, notices that he’s being followed and decides to show his stalker a life of crime. Eventually we discover that The Young Man and Cobb are in over their heads with some shady criminals who seem to take the whole criminal life a touch more seriously. There’s also a love triangle between Cobb, The Young Man and The Blonde, further complicating matters. It’s all played in a low-key manner, maintaining realism given the chosen professions of Cobb and The Blonde. As a writer, The Young Man really should know better.
Nolan chose a flashback-style narrative where we see The Young Man recount his fascination with following people and how it all went wrong. Compared to his later work, and even compared to his second film Memento, it’s a little rough around the edges – it’s even shot in the Academy aspect ratio which is a little disconcerting at first. The black and white, film noir styling makes up for the lack of budget, the non-linear narrative hiding the fact the film was shot over the course of a year due to the cast and crew having full time day jobs. As a debut feature it’s competent but not spectacular, a sign of things to come if nothing else. When the plot gets muddled and answers aren’t forthcoming until the final act, it’s a brave decision for a director to make with their first film by relying on the audience to piece everything together.
The crimes themselves, unfortunately, lack any drama. Whilst it’s easy to take into account the lack of budget, this doesn’t distract from the almost too casual approach that Cobb and The Young Man have to their life of crime. Maybe this is down to the inexperienced actors, or perhaps it’s a deliberate move on the part of Christopher Nolan. Either way, it doesn’t sit well with the remainder of the story which has a more deliberate, harder edge to it, a glimpse into the shady underworld of the criminal fraternity. This is emphasised as they get further and further into the mire and violence becomes a frequent occurrence. The method of Cobb and The Young Man’s burglaries are also somewhat suspect. They don’t just break in – they mess with their victim’s heads. Moving an item here, taking an item there – the focus is never on valuable items, it’s all about the sentimental stuff.
By the finale many of the pieces have slotted into place, and whilst it may not be as satisfying a conclusion as the aforementioned Memento, it still packs a punch and does what most of Nolan’s movies have since demonstrated – it leaves the audience asking questions after it has ended, and leaves some doubt as to what we’ve seen and what actually took place.
Favourite scene: Everything slots into place in the final scene.
Quote: “When I started to follow people, specific people, when I selected a person to follow, that’s when the trouble started.”
Silly Moment: The very casual way they break into houses. Almost too casual.