Director Rowan Joffe
Starring Nicole Kidman,
Colin Firth, Mark Strong
Based on S.J.Watson’s 2011 literary bestseller of the same title, Before I Go to Sleep is a suspense thriller that tells the story of Christine Lucas, a forty-year-old woman who suffers from a form of amnesia where she cannot remember anything from the past twenty years of her life.
The film begins as Christine (Kidman) wakes up naked in a stranger’s bed. She is soon confronted with pictures detailing events from her life, including a marriage of which she has no recollection. The viewer learns that the stranger is her husband Ben (Firth) who explains that as a result of an accident Christine can only retain information for one day and that this routine is repeated every morning – à la 50 First Dates but without the comedy. As the film continues, Christine receives a phone call from Dr. Nash (Strong) who informs her that she has been keeping a video diary in order to keep track of her life and perhaps improve her memory.
The film contains strong performances from the cast, in particular from Kidman whose last appearance on the silver screen in the Grace of Monaco was widely criticized. However Before I Go to Sleep sees Kidman back on top form with a gripping performance reminiscent of her role in Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others. Despite being in every scene, and reprising the same questions and behaviour repeatedly, Kidman avoids being either boring or unbelievable in her portrayal of Christine. Her screen presence is absorbing as she fearlessly launches herself into the role and drags the viewer along with her, creating a protagonist with whom we can both empathise and sympathise. Narratively the audience is put in the same position as Christine; they are given the same knowledge and nothing more. This technique is utilised effectively by director Rowan Joffe who weaves the plot around the viewer’s expectations, forcing them to trust no-one and suspect everyone.
Colin Firth steps out of his comfort zone somewhat, playing the suspect husband Ben, and pulls off an understated yet compelling performance as he leaves the viewer second guessing his every move. Kidman and Firth, who were last paired together in Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man, play off each other effortlessly and the tension between their characters remain palpable throughout the film.
Sadly the supporting cast are not given the same opportunity to shine. The brilliant Anne-Marie Duff is underused but does the best she can with the underwritten character, Claire. Mark Strong, as the intriguing Dr. Nash, suffers the same fate and all but disappears in the second act. This is the films biggest flaw. Whilst the viewer is presented with interesting characters their stories are not delved into deeply enough. Although narratively this makes sense (Christine cannot remember anyone) it would have benefited the film to probe beyond the surface level rather than simply allowing characters to dip in and out of the plot. Even Firth’s Ben, who is given ample screen time, is not fully explored. As a result, when the film tries to build layers through character revelations, they occasionally translate as exposition points rather than exciting discoveries.
Ultimately, as the viewer is left with a lack of information and depth, the film fails to finish with quite the bang it should.Despite its shortcomings, however, Before I Go to Sleep is a solid thriller that successfully keeps its audience gripped throughout its modest running time – a major feat that many recent, over-long blockbusters have failed to do.