Despite a promising start , Before I Go to Sleep is a film that is sadly let down by a number of flaws.
Before I Go to Sleep
Based on S. J. Watson’s highly successful debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep follows the intriguing story of Christine (Nicole Kidman) who, suffering from an acute form of amnesia, wakes up every morning not knowing who she is, where she is, or who the strange man (Colin Firth) laying in the bed beside her is.
Cinema is a medium that has proven on many occasions to be adept at conveying the manipulation of memory. The editing of images and sounds, unsurprisingly lends itself to conveying the confusion that comes with memory disorders like amnesia. It’s also a brilliant template for a thriller, as films such as Christopher Nolan’s Memento have proven. With a strong cast led by Mark Strong and Colin Firth, still riding high after his success with The King’s Speech, director Rowan Joffe would seemingly have all the elements for a great film.
However, despite a promising start, Before I Go to Sleep is sadly let down by a number of flaws which stop it from lacking the sharp edge and depth that could have led to it’s success.
The most apparent of these flaws is an emphasis of plot over character. This may not be surprising considering the norms of the thriller genre, unfortunately it leaves the film feeling more like a Sunday tea-time melodrama, than the fascinating character thriller it could have been.
Few of the film’s characters are given the time to breathe any life into what becomes a rather bland drama. This is particularly the case with Mark Strong’s Doctor Nash, who for all the depth the character is given might as well be called Dr Plot Exposition. Claire, who seems poised to be a significant character, is also frustratingly given very little screen time. The one character who is given life, thanks to a strong performance from Colin Firth, is Ben, Christine’s husband. Firth clearly relishes the chance to play against his reputation as the warm, cuddly, nice guy of cinema and he hits the mark brilliantly in most of his scenes. The scenes in which he reveals his dark side, and attempts to manipulate Christine are especially well-played, but his strong presence only seems to call attention to the weakness of Christine’s character, and gives him little to play off.
The film works best in the tense scenes approaching the film’s climax. Joffe, channeling Kubrick’s The Shining with long nightmarish shots of hotel corridors and dark shadows behind doors, brings the film to life in these scenes, awakening Before I Go To Sleep (if you will forgive the pun) from its slumber. Also, while Nicole Kidman may butcher romantic or complex scenes with a hacksaw with her often cringe-inducing melodramatic acting, she is clearly one of the best in the business at doing the kind of bug-eyed terror required for horror and this heightens the drama of these scenes. There is also some clever directing amongst the clumsy dialogue and thinly drawn characters. An example of this is the use of a digital camera to record Christine’s memories of her day before she forgets it all. It works well and is a clever way of representing her diary entries in the books.
The overriding feeling when watching this film is that too much of it has been left on the cutting room floor, it’s a film that feels rushed. As is often the case with thrillers, the best policy is to slowly drip-feed the film’s twists and turns, but Before I Go to Sleep fails in this department, often jumping the gun and leaving a series of revelations which drive the plot forward but lacking in the impact they could have had if Joffe was a little more patient. The film’s abrupt ending is also likely to leave many feeling cheated of a satisfying climax.
Overall it’s a watchable film and, in some places, even a pleasurable thriller, but too often it fails to rise above mediocre and that is its biggest downfall.