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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Before I Go to Sleep Review: Strong Opening Leads to Underwheliming Ending

Before I Go to Sleep has all the elements of a successful thriller, but fails at key points to put them together.


WARNING: This review contains spoilers. For Actors Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, 2014 has already seen them in the engrossing but poorly-placed The Railway Man; with Before I Go to Sleep, the British duo prove they work well together, even if their film loses steam after a good opening.

For Christine (Kidman) every day is literally a new one; suffering from amnesia brought about by an unknown injury, she wakes up each morning without any knowledge of who she is. Her husband Ben (Firth) has tried for years to help her by placing pictures and Post-it Notes of her former life throughout the house. Confused and frightened, she receives a phone call each morning from her doctor (Mark Strong) who has encouraged her to use a camera to remind her future self of her past. However, new details begin to emerge that test Christine's sanity and even the motives of those closest to her. As devastating news of her former life reaches her, Christine must fight a personal battle to retain not only her memories but her freedom as well.

To say Sleep doesn't push the boundaries isn't what ultimately hurts this production by Director Rowan Joffé: it's the details of Christine's situation that begin to erode our confidence and support. In practical terms, the idea of an amnesiac disappearing from the grid and into the care of a husband isn't unbelievable, but it's the lack of attention by anyone else that's hard to believe. Sure, a friend (Anne-Marie Duff) tries to locate her with no success, but to suggest that her own husband would abandon her in divorce, and that no one outside of her home wouldn't attempt communication is too far-fetched.

And then there's 'Ben' who really isn't Ben, but an obsessed stalker-type who's replaced Real Ben. firth's performance is so on-the-nose in some scenes that he nearly betrays himself at several points. Similarly, the injury Christine sustained took place years before, but it's unlikely that doctors wouldn't have tried similar techniques to jostle her memory, considering she was found bloodied and nude near a row of hotels (yes, it's almost what you think). And doesn't anyone know how to dial 911?

Some of this is explained in passing, but it's a film axiom that a Director show us how a story unfolds rather than merely tell us. Here, Joffé's efforts are mixed, leading to a third act that degrades into a standard chase-and-stab action piece. This is supposed to rile up the ladies in the audience, but it just comes off as a thin replacement for what could have been a more engrossing end. The last sequence is closure of the most melodramatic kind, as Christine and her son are reunited, with Adam Levy delivering a mostly flat performance as Real Ben. It's as an emotional black hole as one can get.

Sure, the adapted script by Novelist S.J. Watson seems of to work initially, driven by good dialogue and believable chunks of investigative work by Christine. Its 92-minute runtime also demonstrates that good film can happen in smaller doses. While Firth does his creepy best to keep relevant, it's the performance of Kidman as the frumpy but terrified Christine that's most satisfying. She's always been the best Hollywood has to offer, and her ability to own a role and escape the Hollywood branding machine is admirable. Strong, another favorite character of mine, delivers a steady if unimpressive performance, demonstrating that most of the pieces for a successful thriller were there, but appears to have succumb at several key stages along the way.

Before I Go to Sleep is probably a good rainy-day Netflix candidate, ready to keep your attention until the final act when Ben's ruse and the film itself go off the rails. Better to learn that in front of your television so you're not discovered cursing at the big screen. Before I Go to Sleep is Rated R for nudity, some brutal violence, and language and has a runtime of 92 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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