Before I go to Sleep is based on S.J. Watson’s best selling psychological thriller about a woman who wakes up every day with no knowledge of what she did or who she was the previous day. WOW! What a great concept!
The film stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, last seen together as husband and wife in The Railway Man, and Mark Strong, (Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy) who recently completed a sold-out starring role in View from the Bridge. WOW! What a cast! The scriptwriter and director is London-born Rowan Joffé, who wrote the smash hit 28 Days Later and the slightly disappointing George Clooney thriller, the American.
He also wrote and directed 2011’s competent if slightly pointless remake of the Boulting Brothers’ Brighton Rock, but hey, give him a WOW, too. So why does Before I go to Sleep risk sending you to sleep after the first, engrossing 30 minutes?
Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) has suffered from anterograde amnesia ever since she was in an accident. Every morning Ben Lucas (Firth), her long suffering husband, explains the situation to her and tells her he loves her. He shows her photos of them as a happy couple on their wedding day to prove what he says.
Then the phone rings. It is Dr Nash reminding her to look at her video diary in a shoe box in the cupboard. The video diary (in the novel, it’s a journal) is Christine’s only hold on reality. It also legitimises Dr Nash, who is writing a paper on Christine’s condition and is treating her for free in exchange for the research material.
When Dr Nash tells Christine it is best that her husband does not know about her treatment, we start to wonder. Is it possible that Ben does not want her to get better, or is Dr Nash a schemer? After all, treating a beautiful woman in Christine’s condition on the sly might raise eyebrows in the medical profession.
What is interesting in the novel, and, to some extent, in the film, is that Christine and Ben live a very mundane, seemingly empty life in an isolated, very comfortable suburban house somewhere near London. Was this really Christine’s life? Gradually clues emerge that it was not. First, Christine discovers that she had a best friend named Claire (Anne Marie Duff) and she learns that she had a son, Adam who apparently died.
When Christine learns that Ben has hidden the existence of both Claire and Ben from her, she is furious. Ben, however, has an excuse for everything that Christine might be more willing to believe than the audience. But when Claire confesses to sleeping with Ben, ‘just once’, you start to wonder who you can trust.
This is the game the film plays for most of its duration, but it’s a lot more fun in the novel. One reason for this might be that the creepiness and doubts start to occur so early in the film that by the ending, you might have trouble being thrilled by the dwindling thriller element.
We never see what Christine does all day when she is not with Dr Nash. She must go out as there is no evidence she is locked in. But late in the film a plot point depends on her not knowing her address. So how does she get home every day if she does not know her address?
This is when the intentional plot holes in the novel start to mesh with the holes in the movie that might be less intentional. For one thing, the film insists upon showing Christine’s pretty face being smashed up by a broken bottle (ouch!). Yet within a short time of being beaten up, Christine emerges almost picture perfect, without so much as a little scar to remind her, or us, of her abuse.
In another scene she is punched in the face, but all that remains of that ordeal is a little spot that resembles blush-on over-zealously applied. The hotel at the airport where Christine had an affair has an almost unheard of single room at the end of the corridor, where we expect to find the lift or emergency staircase.
Joffé is doing himself no favours in directing the climactic hotel scene like a woman-in-jeopardy television movie, which the film increasingly resembles. This is a shame, as the book and the talented cast have the potential to deliver a much classier thriller.
Joyce Glasser – MT film reviewer