If 50 First Dates, The Vow, Groundhog Day and Memento had a baby together. Academy Award winners Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth star in Before I Go to Sleep.
Director – Rowan Joffe
Screenplay – Rowan Joffe
Based on the novel Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson
Producer – Mark Gill, Matt O’Toole & Liza Marshall
Rated R for some brutal violence and language
Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) wakes up one day with a man she does not know. That man, her husband Ben (Colin Firth), explains to her that she suffered brain damage from a car wreck ten years ago, and every morning she wakes up with no memory from her early twenties onward. Each day, Ben has to explain Christine’s condition to her.
While receiving treatment from neurologist Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), she begins to record a video diary, at his recommendation, of her thoughts and progress at the end of the day. Over the course of her treatment, though, she begins to discover new truths that begin to make her question everything she thought she knew about her life and those close to her.
Much like John Wick, Before I Go to Sleep was a film that didn’t catch my attention until about a week or two before its release. You would think a psychological thriller featuring two Oscar winners and one of the most underrated character actors working today would get a little bit more of a confident marketing push. If we rewound back to the beginning of October and you asked me which of the two aforementioned movies I would end up enjoying the most, my money would be on Before I Go to Sleep.
Not only did I enjoy John Wick more – much, much, much more – Before I Go to Sleep is one of the worst films of 2014.
If there was just one word to describe this film, it’d be dull. Writer/director Rowan Joffe seems to have no interest whatsoever in the material and just coasts on direction auto-pilot, as nearly every aspect here proves he must’ve been bored out of his mind while making this. Even with substance (or lack thereof) consisting of preposterous, lazily handled twists (you’ll know who the culprit is within the first 10-20 minutes anyway), this film can’t even claim the style over substance argument, appearing visually flat from beginning to end. The only way Joffe tries to increase any intensity within the film is through on the nose musical crescendos and cheap, loud sound effects, such as a truck driver blaring its horn as he dodges Christine while she crosses the street or an airplane flying over her.
The lack of any technical effort is mostly disappointing ’cause there’s really nothing special or intriguing about the paper-thin mystery presented here, despite a solid premise. Sure, we’ve seen one genre film, we’ve seen ’em all, but that’s all the more reason why you’d think Joffe and his crew would put a little elbow grease into the film’s style to distinguish itself from other thrillers. Creating an appropriate mood and atmosphere can sometimes elevate a simple or rehashed plot, but the lack of care is so noticeable here, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Maybe Joffe felt since he was able to land some A-list talent, he could kick back and let the cast pick up the slack? It’s certainly a plus to have Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Mark Strong headline your cast, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this film would’ve been destined for straight-to-DVD or Lifetime instead of a theatrical release if not for those three signing on for this. That said, out of all the scripts they get handed to them, what exactly did they see in this? Colin Firth’s a great actor, but his talent is really wasted on such an unconvincing character. Every now and then, his talent peskily gets in the way and forces out a genuine moment, but you’d think Ben would be a little more exhausted and frustrated in having to run through the same routine day after day with his amnesiac wife.
To her credit, Nicole Kidman goes all-in and gives it the old college try here. Despite the fact that Christine’s trying situation lacks depth and raises more questions than answers as the film plays on (Why does she never once ask if she has any family of her own?), the fault there lies with Rowan Joffe. Kidman’s effort in giving this film any ounce of emotion is evident. With someone half as talented as she is in the lead role, this would’ve been a boring disaster.
Well, one bigger than what it already is.
Nicole Kidman tries her best here, but despite her performance, Before I Go to Sleep is a lazy, cliche, and uninspired thriller, with the only shock it’s able to provide being a talent like Colin Firth not even able to do anything with his material. On paper, this is a premise that could work in better hands, but Rowan Joffe’s flat, ho-hum approach will have you begging for the same psychogenic amnesia Christine suffers from so you can have this film erased from your memory by the time you wake up next morning.
I give Before I Go to Sleep a D (★).