Hard to believe it but a film filled with the impressive combined acting talents of Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth is pretty much a failure. What lets them down is not necessarily the script as there is an interesting story buried within rather it is the uneven direction of Rowan Joffe (Brighton Rock). He might be in a little over his head as he has demonstrated some writing talent in the past having penned the script for 28 Weeks Later. This film shows that while he can construct a strong story in his head and then on paper he is not quite sure how to ably bring it to life on the big screen.
The type of amnesia Nicole Kidman’s character suffers from in Before I Go to Sleep has been used in the excellent Christopher Nolan film Momento as well as the comedy 50 First Dates and crime drama The Lookout. A rare affliction everywhere but in film. It presents interesting possibilities via the mind’s inability to collect memories for longer than one day. This time it is used to tell the tale of Christine (Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole, Eyes Wide Shut) and Ben (Colin Firth – The King’s Speech, A Single Man).
As she wakes each morning 40-year-old Christine does not know who the man in the bed beside her is. He is Ben, her husband of fifteen years. Ben spends his time each morning before he heads off to work as a professor and the head of the history department at a university explaining to Christine who she is, who he is and their history together. Soon after her stranger of a husband leaves for work the phone rings and on the other end is Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong – Body of Lies, Sherlock Holmes).
Dr. Nasch explains to Christine that he is a neuroscientist and they have been working together for a number of weeks trying to help her get her memory back. He tells her about a camera hidden in a shoebox at the back of her side of the closet on which Christine has recorded her memories and discoveries of the day. Each morning she watches herself on the camera relearning things about her life and then meets with Dr. Nasch.
As each day’s memory is added to the previous on the camera rather than clearing things up for Christine it makes her life even muddier. Now she is in the situation where she doesn’t know who to trust. Is Dr. Nasch really who he says he is and why doesn’t he want her telling Ben what they are doing? Why does Ben keep hiding things from her? Especially concerning her attack that brought on the amnesia. Is he protecting her or himself?
One day Christine finds some pictures and she recognizes a woman in one of them. Ben finally admits that it is her friend Claire (Anne-Marie Duff – Notes on a Scandal, The Magdalene Sisters). Soon Claire becomes the key to unlocking Christine’s memory and discovering what happened to her the night of her attack.
The amnesia aspect is the perfect one, which is why it has been used so often, for the construction of a thriller. The character with it is almost totally vulnerable and key aspects of the story are not unveiled until the last moments. Tension is created as a result. While Joffe does have a go at it this he is not successful. Little to no tension is created and this is because of the way Joffe has structured the film. The small amount of tension he has managed is totally mismanaged by the time the payoff comes about at the end. After a slow and careful build up the end feels rushed and forced with almost an added on at the last minute feel to it. Makes the first 90 minutes feel like a waste. Result is yawns (at the screening I attended there was a loud, exaggerated one from a woman sitting in the back) and eye rolling.
This is too bad because Nicole Kidman does an admirable job with a difficult character to play. She remains rather calm in her depiction of the woman who is desperately trying to find out who she is and who she can trust. No overacting to be found. The director and film end up letting her down. Colin Firth is excellent as he usually is. He is believable in his grief and frustration as the caring and loyal husband. Mark Strong is also good as the doctor. Is he truly good because there is a scent of villain always around him?
The last 20 minutes of the film is so ridiculous whatever momentum had been built up was cruelly cut down at the knees. Logic and realism is thrown out the window with Joffe seemingly believing that the audience suffers from the same type of amnesia as Christine. At the end of it all you will be hoping that the film will be wiped from your memory as it is a useless taking of space when you wake up the morning after seeing it.