'Before I Go to Sleep'
Proving yet again that no idea is too good to avoid being done to death, ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ takes the amnesiac thriller concept of ‘Memento’ and demonstrates how easy it is to screw up. This is a thriller without thrills, serving up tiresome insights and plot twists invisible only to audiences who aren’t paying attention. Fortunately for the filmmakers, their movie is also dull enough to lull most viewers into sleep, which will prevent them from predicting what’s coming thirty minutes before the actors do.
Nicole Kidman stars as a woman stricken with a very special brand of amnesia that allows her to retain memories only during her waking hours. Every morning she emerges from bed thinking that she’s in her mid-20s, only to have her loving husband (Colin Firth) explain that she’s actually middle-aged and permanently brain damaged from an event in her past. So, every day is a series of revelations that will have to be repeated the next day. In other words, this is ’50 First Dates’ without the meet-cute romance or the comedy.
However, now there’s a twist. A mysterious doctor (Mark Strong) takes an interest in Kidman’s unique condition and thinks that her life might not be what it seems. Every day, they discover something new that Kidman records herself explaining on a video camera that she will find as soon as her husband leaves home each morning. Trickiness and betrayal are abound in Kidman’s actual backstory, just don’t think too hard about what those twists could be since there aren’t many possibilities and you might figure everything out before walking into the theater.
That’s the trouble with ‘Before I Go to Sleep’. The basic setup might sound slightly outside the norm, but for anyone with more than a passing familiarity with this genre, the story is very obviously one that you’ve seen before. Granted, there’s a decent memory-loss gimmick in play here that makes at least the opening act play out with light to moderate unpredictability. Likewise, the cast is far better than the tiresome material deserves, so the likes of Kidman, Firth and Strong elevate a few scenes to a level approaching believability early on.
For a while, you might even find yourself enjoying the movie and even getting anxious about how it will turn out. Then at a certain point, you’ll notice that only a handful of characters could even potentially be involved in the mystery, and it’s preeeeeetty obvious what happened. A mystery movie without much mystery is a bit of a problem.
Sadly, there’s very little else to even say about this forgettable little movie. Director Rowan Joffe (son of Roland Joffe) is proficient enough as a visual stylist to deliver something that looks accomplished. His flick even unfolds with fairly effective narrative rhythms and structure. ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ is competently made and features talented actors who look good and lend credibility to lines that don’t deserve it. Yet, with a story this dumb and obvious that steals so liberally from previous thrillers without adding anything compelling of its own, none of that really matters. This might be a professional product, but it’s still a bad one. Don’t bother.