Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Rowan Joffe
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne Marie Duff.
A woman with anterograde amnesia, a rare form of memory loss tries to find out the truth behind the traumatic accident responsible for her condition. But how far can she trust her husband? And can she trust the mysterious psychiatrist who is treating her?
Memory loss has been the driving force of many films, from Christopher Nolan’s tricky and intelligent Memento through to the action-oriented The Bourne Identity, and even the comedic Adam Sandler vehicle 50 First Dates. This psychological thriller about an amnesiac woman trying to learn the truth about the accident that has affected her reunites Nicole Kidman with Colin Firth, her costar in the acclaimed drama The Railway Man. Their rapport from that film sets up expectations about the nature of their relationship here, but these are suddenly and jarringly subverted.
Every morning Christine (Kidman) wakes up in a panic with no memory of who she is and with a strange man (Firth) sleeping in the bed beside her. She wanders into the bathroom, where a number of photographs are stuck to the wall showing her glimpses of her life. She wanders back into the bedroom, where the man waits. He introduces himself as Ben, her long suffering but incredibly patient husband, and tells her that she lost her memory in an accident four years ago and that she goes through this same routine every day. There are reminder notes tacked all over the place to help her remember the little things that will get her through the day. Whatever Ben tells her that morning though will again be forgotten by the next day. And the routine will be repeated.
But this morning after Ben heads off to work, she receives a troubling phone call from a man calling himself Dr Nash (Mark Strong), who tells her that he is a neuropsychologist and has been working with her to help restore her memory. As part of his treatment he has her maintain a video diary and record her thoughts on a small mobile phone she has hidden in a shoe box at the back of the closet.
But there seems to be something more sinister behind Christine’s memory loss. The house seems more like a prison than a house, and Christine has limited access to information and treatment to find help for her condition. She embarks on an emotionally wrought and terrifying journey as she slowly begins to remember the events of the past. Soon a few painful images begin to flood back into her consciousness and she begins to question everything she thinks she knows. As pieces of her memory begin to return, Christine begins to doubt her surroundings. Who can she trust? What secrets is Ben hiding? Is Dr Nash really trying to help her or harm her? what is the secret behind her accident?
Based on the bestselling psychological thriller written by S J Watson, Before I Go To Sleep is a slow burn thriller, and its effectively developed atmosphere of unease, paranoia and mounting danger recalls more claustrophobic thrillers like Wait Until Dark, Rear Window, etc, that make familiar suburban surroundings seem menacing.
The film has been written and directed by Rowan Joffe (the disappointing remake of Brighton Rock, etc), the son of filmmaker Roland Joffe, and his direction here is rather prosaic and gradually becomes rather heavy handed. For the most part Before I Go To Sleep is a reasonably tense and unnerving psychological thriller, but it becomes increasingly silly and unbelievable the longer it goes on. There are several attempts at deliberate misdirection, aimed at unsettling the audience, but these are frustrating more than anything else. But the film itself is let down badly by a silly denouement that makes little sense, and a happy ending that seems tacked on and rings false.
In the wake of her Oscar win, Kidman’s career has certainly been uneven, and she has found herself in some disappointingly bland films like the misguided Bewitched, Grace Of Monaco, the remake of The Stepford Wives, The Invasion, etc. Only occasionally does she find a role that allows her to deliver a more nuanced performance, and her role here lies somewhere between the great and the more middle of the road. Kidman delivers a nice if occasionally shrill performance as Christine, another emotionally draining and cliched damsel in distress that has become an increasingly familiar part of her resume. She is in every scene and is particularly effective in capturing the uncertainty and growing unease that Christine feels.
Firth is underused in a somewhat lesser role, but he shows a darker side to his normally genial screen persona here as the more volatile Ben, and his performance is unsettling. And Strong, who normally has a strong screen presence, is often cast as a villain, which adds another element to his casting here. In fact the casting choices here add a layer of intrigue to the material.
Before I Go To Sleep has all of the elements to be a first class suspense thriller, but it is let down by its second half. Another Memento it is not!