There is a moment in Before I Go to Sleep when Nicole Kidman's Christine, an amnesiac unable to remember even the most basic details of her life from day-to-day, receives a request from another character to meet at a nearby observatory.
As I was watching this moment unfold, I could have sworn that while I was looking in Kidman's eyes I could hear her muttering to herself "This makes absolutely no sense at all. I don't remember anything from one day to the next, but somehow I'm going to remember how to get someplace I haven't been in years."
While films such as Before I Go to Sleep, or as I like to call it Memento Jr., don't exactly depend upon a wealth of logic for their thrills or suspense, such an obvious gap in logic is all too common in a film that survives solely upon the strength of its talented cast that seems to never let go of the idea that this could be, or could have been, a pretty darn good flick.
The film centers around Kidman's Christine, a woman whom we meet when she wakes up alongside husband Ben (Colin Firth) as a 40-year-old still believing herself to be in her 20's. Of course, Ben has been through this more than a few times before. Christine, it seems, experienced some sort of "accident" in her 20's that resulted in severe brain injuries and a form of psychogenic amnesia that leaves her storing up memories all day only to lose them when she falls asleep and having to start all over again the next day.
One day, Christine begins to uncover disturbing new truths that will lead her to intensify her efforts to remember her past while questioning her present including husband Ben and her neuropsychologist, Dr. Nash (Mark Strong).
Based upon a novel by S.J. Watson, a novel I'm hoping unfolds with a tad more clarity, Before I Go to Sleep starts off promisingly with its cast able to capture every nuance of the mystery and within their characters. However, as time goes on and little bits and pieces reveal themselves it seems as if director Rowan Joffe has either left serious pieces of drama on the cutting room floor or he's allowed the film to implode under the weight of Hollywood schmaltz expectations.
The film that is left is Memento minus the actual grit, a film that has good actors doing dramatic things to almost no effect whatsoever. It's a shame really, because there are moments when I was sitting in my seat watching Kidman's eyes and her body language thinking to myself that this easily could have been as impactful as her devastating performance in Rabbit Hole.
It is entirely possible that you will find yourself surprised by exactly what unfolds in Before I Go to Sleep, though I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of you will have it figured out rather early on. It won't be surprising that not everyone involved in the storyline is exactly who they say they are, while Joffe does his best to keep us guessing who can be trusted and who cannot. Joffe hits a home run by casting Firth and Strong, both actors able to portray equal parts chivalry and sadism with the same steady presence. The result is that even as you've decided exactly what's going on, both Firth and Strong convincingly plant continued doubts.
Before I Go to Sleep isn't a disastrous film, but it is disappointing given the early promise of the film and the quality of the film's ensemble cast that also includes a briefly appearing yet convincing Anne-Marie Duff as one of Christine's oldest and best friends.
Or is she? Or are they? Or is Christine?
Fans of Firth and Kidman will likely consider the film worth seeing despite its flaws, but for those hoping for early Oscar bait disappointment is likely to be the end result.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic