After the New York Times declared S J Watson’s 2011 book Before I Go to Sleep an ‘out-of-nowhere literary sensation’ Ridley Scott was happy to put his name and money behind the film; Nicole Kidman then asked if Colin Firth could play her husband, having so much enjoyed working with him on The Railway Man. However the finished product falls way short of any expectations.
Kidman plays Christine, an amnesia sufferer who loses her memory each time she wakes after an incident four years ago. At the film’s beginning she wakes up to find she’s been recording a video diary, a secret she’s kept from her husband Ben (Colin Firth) for two weeks and has been meeting with Doctor Nash (Mark Strong) who aims to help her.
Before I Go to Sleep remains true to its ‘mystery’ tagline with intimate shots and a noir palette. Writer and director Rowan Joffe is also happy to cut to the quick, indulging the audience with lots of plot and sinister characters from the beginning. Though this includes some clunky exposition and stilted dialogue. (And SPOILER if you go with your instincts you’ve guessed the ending in under a minute.)
This film has an embarrassment of talent: you’ll get tired of her panicked whispering but Kidman carries Christine’s emotions and development very well. Her co-stars lack the same effort. With Mark Strong playing a less interesting version of Jim Prideaux and Firth too simply reprises his Le Carre character – probably the reason there were so many old ladies at my screening.
After ten minutes of Before I Go to Sleep you’ll wish you were watching Tinker Taylor, after twenty you’ll want to re-watch Memento but after thirty or forty minutes you’ll probably start enjoying the film in a sort of cheap and smutty way – I had half a mind to leave and grab a big tube of popcorn. The twists come thick and fast and each one is granted the required fortissimo, sharp angle and sound acting. You might even start to enjoy the faux-Nolan grey scale as Christine hides from Ben in the shadows, recording video on her black Lumix camera that Dr Nash gave to her in his new Peugeot 508 Saloon. However a climax that doesn’t really make sense, an overly sentimental ending with a ridiculous final shot ends the fun you might have been having.
While remaining watchable Before I Go to Sleep delivers kitschy mystery, if not quite arm clenching thrills, and it’s certainly an easy one to nit-pick. After Joffe worked on The American and the latest Brighton Rock you’d hope that Before I Go to Sleep would see his foot firmly on the throttle, sadly he just cannot handle the 508’s 140 BHP and stylish matt finish.