Director: Rowan Joffe
Writer: Rowan Joffe
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong
A film which is all twist but no payoff
Here’s a film which relies entirely on the promise of a twist we never saw coming, hoping the hour or so we invest into the build up to said twist, and the ensuing payoff, will be worth the wait. The twist is great and I didn’t see it coming, but the build up and payoff really is not worth the price of admission.
The film, to its credit, wastes no time in getting into the story which, at a surface level, is quite intriguing. A 40 year old woman, Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman), wakes up every day with no memory of the past 14 years and to her mind she’s still in her late twenties; furthermore she awakes every morning in bed with a man whom she has to learn over and over again is her husband, Ben (Colin Firth). In the last few weeks Christine has been seeing a doctor (Mark Strong) who is trying to help her recall the events which got her into this life of amnesia; a brutally violent attack which left her clinging for life and left for dead in a bus depot four years before.
The premise is all set up for what Roger Ebert used to call a ‘bruised forearm’ movie, where you’re so gripped by what’s happening on screen you grab and bruise the forearm of the person sat next to you. I’m all for a slow burn thriller, but unfortunately Before I Go To Sleep burns out before the payoff can even start, leaving the viewer approaching boredom when they should be on the edge of their seat. The main cause of this lies in the screenplay which is all tell and little show, meaning every detail of the plot is delivered in exposition-filled dialogue thanks to Christine’s amnesia, filling in the past for both her and the audience at the same time. There may not be another way around this, but it’s a deep flaw in the movie; compare this to Memento, which may not be entire fair considering they are quite different movies, but the way the Christopher Nolan’s film builds mystery and has the viewer hooked is just what this film sorely lacks.
Admittedly, not everything Christine is told is necessarily the truth, but there isn’t much fun in finding out what is and isn’t true. Director Rowan Joffe (son of the once great film maker Rowland Joffe) directs his film with muted colours, safe, traditional camera angles and movements, and the score by Ed Shearmur harkens back to Hitchcock but feels totally out of place with the scenes it is trying to dramatically heighten. The film is flat, dull, and doesn’t hold our interest which is made doubly worse when the plot runs out of steam before the final act; if this were made in the 1980 or 1990s I think it might have been comparable to great thrillers like Fatal Attraction, Jagged Edge, or to a lesser extent A Perfect Murder because we have the premise, the twist, and three strong leads, but the movie is too drab and static to even come close.
Nicole Kidman is the film’s one saving grace and she makes the film at least watchable throughout, reminding us once again of the importance of good casting and star power. Colin Firth is miscast as Ben, never truly looking as though he’s comfortable or even fully invested with the material, and the same goes for Mark Strong. I can understand the appeal of wanting to make a thriller aimed at mature adults, but this won’t be remembered long after it leaves cinemas.
As this review is spoiler-free, I won’t get into the many ways I think the final act both disappoints and could have been improved, but I will say this; based on a worldwide best-selling novel and written in the first person from Christine’s perspective, the Christine character, I assume (I have not read the novel) allows the reader to get into the mind of an amnesiac and feel the pain, torment, and fear she has every day she wakes up, talks to the doctor, and begins to question everything she’s been told by Ben. The movie allows for precious little of this insight, favouring the mechanics of a standard thriller plot beats instead. Honestly, I expected better.