Midway through BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, the new thriller starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong, I found myself thinking “something better happen soon before I go to sleep!”
Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is a deliberately paced thriller, on purpose no doubt, that nonetheless crawls along at a sluggish pace all the way to its standard pedestrian conclusion.
It actually has a pretty interesting story. Nicole Kidman plays a woman named Christine who wakes up in bed with a man she doesn’t recognize. The man (Colin Firth) tells her that he’s her husband Ben and that she suffers from a condition in which every night when she goes to bed she forgets everything that happened to her the day before. When she awakes in the morning, she has forgotten everything about her life. Ben tells her that her condition is a result of a car accident in which she suffered severe head injuries.
One morning Christine receives a phone call from a Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) who tells her he has been treating her, but that obviously since she forgets everything at the end of the day she has no memory of his treating her. He directs her to a camera she has hidden in her closet, and she discovers that under his direction she’s been making a video diary of herself in order to work towards regaining her memory.
During this process, she begins to see glimpses of memories, including one where she’s viciously attacked by an unknown assailant. This memory is corroborated by Dr. Nasch who tells her that she was indeed assaulted and that her injuries were the result of this attack and not a car accident. This revelation makes Christine wonder why Ben has not been truthful to her about the cause of her condition. When asked, Ben tells her in the past the truth has caused her pain and so he has chosen not to reveal it to her any longer.
It makes perfect sense to Christine and she quickly moves on. However, as she regains more lost memories, she finds other instances where Ben has kept the truth from her. Worse yet, certain images in her mind raise suspicions about Dr. Nasch as well. As she struggles to regain her memory, she finds herself doubting both her husband and Dr. Nasch and doesn’t know which one to trust, especially when the things they say contradict each other. If only she could remember the truth.
For the most part, I enjoyed BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP. The story it tells is a good one, and it kept me guessing all the way to the end. However, it moves along at such a sluggish pace, it really prevented me from settling in and getting completely drawn into the drama.
Director Rowan Joffe seems to have done this on purpose to give the film a quiet claustrophobic feeling— Christine spends her days alone in her home— and thoughtful self-discovery. So, the film certainly does a good job of capturing Christine’s mood and frame of mind, as she seems to be in a perpetual mental fog, struggling to learn the truth about herself, unable to take giant steps in her search for answers because of her condition. But the trade-off is a movie that never rises above the curious, never becomes gut-wrenchingly intense, and never really attains that next level, the one necessary to make this one a memorable thriller. At the end of the day, it’s all rather unmemorable. Heh heh.
Nicole Kidman is fine as Christine and does a good job making her a vulnerable character, but it’s Colin Firth who has a field day here. He turns in a first-rate performance as Ben, coming off at first as very sincere and loving, and every time Christine doubts him and shares her doubts with him, he has a satisfying answer for her. Time and time again, Christine finds herself questioning her husband, and each time she confronts him, he convinces her of his love and loyalty with his charm, and yet thanks to Firth’s terrific performance, there’s an underlying quality of duplicity about him, something you can’t put your finger on but you know it’s there. Firth really does a good job keeping the audience off balance here. Is he really in love with her and simply being secretive because he’s trying to protect her? Or is he up to something sinister?
Mark Strong is serviceable as Dr. Nasch, but I’ve seen Strong much better in other roles. Part of the issue here is most of the screen time goes to Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, and so Firth gets to do much more in terms of making the audience question him than Strong does. Strong’s role is much smaller, and as a result he doesn’t get a chance to strut his stuff as effectively as the two leads.
Director Rowan Joffe wrote the screenplay based on the novel by S.J. Watson. As such, I expected this one to be much more fleshed out than it ultimately was. Other than Colin Firth’s character, the rest of the characters and the story itself aren’t really developed enough to make this film a rewarding and satisfying experience. Nicole Kidman’s Christine is not supposed to be as developed since she can’t remember who she is, and this is okay since we go along for the ride with her to find out who she is and what happened to her, but because of this, the movie needs a strong cast of supporting characters. There is really only one, Firth’s Ben.
The story did manage to hold my interest for the most part, but it never reached that next level where I was squirming in my seat. It could have used some more thrills.
The ending was also somewhat of a letdown. What had been a clever mystery ends in an obligatory by-the-numbers physical confrontation where Christine fights for her life against her attacker.
It also doesn’t help that there really weren’t any memorable scenes in this one. The best part is the story itself, as I wanted to find out what really happened to Christine and who it was who attacked her, and I enjoyed the gimmick of her twenty four hour amnesia. Likewise, I wanted to know which man she should trust, her husband, her doctor, both, or neither. These story aspects were all good.
It’s just that the movie took its sweet time finding the answers, and the amount of thrills along the way was minimal. And once we get to the ending, the payoff was anticlimactic.
I wanted more.
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is a mediocre thriller that benefits from decent performances by its three leads, Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong, especially Firth, but it lacks the intensity needed to make its mark.
After twenty four hours you’re likely to forget it all.