Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong
Due to suffering a traumatic head injury many years ago, Christine (Kidman) continues to wake up every morning with no memory of who she is and her husband Ben (Firth) has to remind her who both she and he is every morning. Every morning, just after Ben leaves for work Christine receives a phone call from Dr. Nash (Strong) who has been treating her, and as part of her treatment has asked her to keep a secret video diary where Christine describes what she has learnt about her past that day. However, as through her video diary she pieces together parts of her fractured past, she begins to question every aspect of her current life and all the people in it.
The daily plight of Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth’s characters as they essentially relive the same day, every day as Firth’s Ben has to constantly tell Kidman’s Christine the same things promotes a similar in the mind of the audience; we have all been here before. Indeed Before I go to Sleep examines very familiar territory from its memory loss narrative to director Rowan Joffe’s stylistic approach. However, its embracing of many of these familiar conventions (not to mention a lean running time) do ultimately make it a very enjoyable and immensely watchable thriller, that ironically (considering its subject matter) will not live long in the memory.
The story, with its gradual unravelling of facts and revelations may have been quite engrossing on the page in the original 2011 novel by S. J. Watson, but on the screen it never has the emotional involvement or pay-off, or indeed a strong enough plot to provide the necessary edge-of-the-seat thrills or intrigue. The revelations themselves are all pretty gradual and the bigger revelations that are supposed to pull the rug right from under the feet of both the protagonist and viewer are slightly signposted a little too much before they happen.
What does work in the favour of Before I go to Sleep is the performances: Nicole Kidman reminds us of how good an actress she can be with a committed performance that captures perfectly the isolation, insecurity and paranoia that Christine experiences. Many shots are simply a close up of her face as she records her video diary, but the look in her eyes is enough is feel genuine sympathy for this character as we the audience learn the facts with her. Even though the script cannot quite match the standards her performance sets. Likewise Colin Firth and Mark Strong are excellent, the former almost playing on the fact he is Colin Firth to give a much edgier performance than we are used to from him, while the latter’s deep voice over the phone is enough to provide the incredible amount of screen charisma he consistently provides. It is predominantly down to the three great performances that Before I go to Sleep provides some emotional engagement as the plot and Joffe’s style make it an otherwise extremely vacuous experience.
These great performances are ultimately a little wasted as in what must only be an attempt to give the narrative an extra layer of atmosphere Joffe goes for predominantly very stylistic shots of the camera slowly panning across dark and moody locations. Meanwhile Ben Davis’ cinematography sheens of murky greys and pale blues and Ed Shearmur’s ambient score only enhance the suffocating and claustrophobic atmosphere. However the abundance of over bearing style, as slick as it may be, unfortunately does ultimately often feel a little too superficial as the substance of the narrative cannot quite match it or just plays second fiddle for Joffe’s desire to get the creepiest shot possible in a scene in a dark car park. As Before I go to Sleep reaches its climax it certainly feels like a case of style over substance as Joffe’s stylistic sheen often distances us from any true emotional involvement with the protagonist as each revelation and slight rug pull is entertaining to watch but never as emotionally devastating for the viewer as it is for her.
The extremely stylistic approach to Before I go to Sleep makes it never anything less than a slick and entertaining thriller, but despite the great performances the fact it is so stylistically slick renders it great fun and very watchable, but never truly as gripping or emotionally involving as perhaps it should have been.