Title: Before I Go To Sleep
Director: Rowan Joffe
Major Players: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong
Out Of Five: 2.5
Did somebody decide this was Mediocre Movie Week and not tell me? Admittedly, I haven’t been able to check out everything on offer this week, but what I have seen hasn’t got past the fair-to-middling mark. Or perhaps I need to manage my expectations.
Rowan Joffe’s Before I Go To Sleep is a case in point. With a cast like Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong, I set out with the hope of liking it. The fact that I’d not read the best-seller of the same name didn’t really matter, although I’d been told that the book was worth a read.
The story centres on Christine (Nicole Kidman), who suffered head injuries some years ago. The effect of those injuries is that when she wakes up every morning she can’t remember what happened the day before, so anything she’s learnt is forgotten overnight. It places a strain on her patient and caring husband Ben (Colin Firth) and eventually she starts to see a specialist, Doctor Nasch (Mark Strong) who encourages her to keep a video diary on a camera so that she can check it every day. The object of the exercise is to help her get her memory back – and help her remember how she got her injuries.
The importance of memory in our lives and the part it plays in creating and sustaining an individual is a strong and interesting basis for a film, but this isn’t it. Essentially, it’s designed to be a psychological thriller and it simply doesn’t cut it. And there’s two very big reasons why. Firstly, Joffe has a very bad habit of signposting every significant plot development, so all the guess work goes out of the window – and so does any hope of suspense or tension.
The second one is that the story is full of holes, loose ends that never stand a chance of being tied up and the occasional incongruity. Ben and Christine, for example, live in a luxurious, detached house in the Home Counties. He is supposed to be head of chemistry at the local secondary school, so how on earth can he afford a house like that? More significantly as far as the plot is concerned, there’s a connection between Christine’s recently-returned friend, Claire (Anne-Marie Duff) and Ben – at one point she telephones him repeatedly – but we never find out what it is. Yet those phone calls are presented as being an important moment in the plot.
We’re bowled a couple of googlies in an attempt to keep our attention, but they don’t really help. The whole thing is a real disappointment, given the calibre of the cast. It’s interesting to see both Colin Firth and Mark Strong – both powerful leading men in their own right – playing pretty much against type and it works best with Strong. Although his character is confusing: we start off thinking that he’s the proverbial ‘goodie’, then it appears we’re wrong and then we go back to our original opinion. For the most part, it’s a three hander with the two men and Kidman.
I’ve worded this carefully in an effort to avoid spoilers although, if you see the film, it won’t take you that long to dodge the occasional red herring and work out the story for yourself. For lovers of the book, I should say that it’s a pretty faithful adaptation, apart from the occasional tweak. Which means that, if you’ve read it, you know what happens anyway!
Before I Go To Sleep is on general release around the UK.