Before I Go To Sleep
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 7th September 2014
The promise of a thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth ought to be the greatest thing since Dead Calm and Love..? Actually, no, I can’t think of a Firth thriller but I’m sure he’d have been very good in one a decade ago before he became every middle-aged woman’s (and some men’s) fantasy Sexy-but-Sensible Guy.
What if every night your memory was wiped? And when you woke up, your husband had to explain to you (again. And again) who you were and who he was and what had happened? This is the basic but potentially interesting conceit of Before I go to Sleep, a claustrophobic and initially engrossing film shot in the drab greys of a British Anywhere.
It started, as so many movies do nowadays, as a bestselling book by a first-time writer, and goodness knows how faithful the film script is to the novel’s original dialogue, but as soon as we see Firth explaining to a perpetually startled Kidman what her predicament is, you just don’t buy it. Sure, he’s telling us, the audience, the story for the first time, but given the premise is that the “OK, so what happened was…” has been happening every morning for the last 14 years, Firth is remarkably calm and hasn’t yet begun cutting down the details of a well-trodden anecdote. How he gets ready for work in time each morning is beyond me.
As Christine Lucas, Oscar-winner Kidman is disappointingly one-note, all whispery voice and wide-eyed terror. (Gosh, her daily grind must be exhausting, hearing these revelations anew day after day. At least by the time you’ve gone through the wedding album and examined your middle-aged face in the mirror, it’s time for lunch.) Firth, however, hints at something going against type with his grimly-set jaw and psychotically patient demeanour. (Most couples lose patience on the second “I’ve already told you!..”) Add to this British every-villain Mark Strong as the well-meaning doctor who is helping Christine remember, and the film has all the elements of a much better movie than it turns out to be.
Adapted and directed by Rowan Joffe, who made the recent Brighton Rock which was a better movie from a better book, this film will inevitably evoke Memento for its amnesiac-mystery-solver parallels. Sadly the performances pale in comparison and the big reveal, when finally delivered, is an uncomfortable mix of nasty and yawn-inducing.