10 September 2014

Review: BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP


In lieu of a proper introduction, that video says everything that annoys me about knowing there's a plot twist before you see a movie. It's not hard to catch me out with a really good one, because that's the one part of my brain I tend to switch off during cinema visits, but Before I Go To Sleep is really built to disorient ahead of its one big reveal, which leaves you with little to do except guess.

This is based on an acclaimed debut novel by British author S.J. Watson, about Christine Lucas, a woman who wakes up each and every day with no memory of her life. She forms new memories during the day with the aid of her doting husband Ben and a neurologist called Dr Nasch, but forgets it all while she's asleep. When Nasch suggests recording a video diary to help her recover, she realises that certain things are being hidden from her and starts to record as much of the truth as she can manage.

As a setup for a paranoid thriller, its antecedents are films like Spellbound and Memento, even if most people will be thinking of Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates. Nicole Kidman does a terrific job of portraying Christine's intrinsic vulnerability and the frailty that comes with having forgotten how to comport herself from day to day. It's a scary concept in and of itself, but retaining the knowledge that she was attacked gives her and the film the drive and determination to move forward, even if she remains quite fragile.

On either side, she has Colin Firth and Mark Strong, each only giving her certain information to go on- whether they're withholding certain nuggets of the truth for protective or malevolent reasons is one of the more unsettling questions that the film raises. Rowan Joffé deliberately builds an oppressively drab atmosphere, so non-descript as to ratchet up the disorientation even further. We could be anywhere, anywhen, just like Christine each and every time she wakes up.

Joffé's script also lends to the disorientation for the majority of the film, but the wheels seem to come off the longer it goes on, or rather, it loses a wheel every time it rolls over a major reveal. You end up getting ahead of the film's misdirection before we're meant to and certain red herrings just don't ring true. Firth and Strong are both watchable male leads, but both have certain typecasting- Firth is a lovely, supportive Mark Darcy type and Strong is at least villainous enough that he made it into that car ad with Ben Kingsley.

One of them has the ambiguity that the film requires within their range, but one of them really suffers when the film tilts headfirst into melodrama in the last act. Not that Kidman comes out ahead by the time it's all over either, as it all gets a little over-the-top. The register is suddenly completely, howlingly wild, discarding the previous subtle tones of a Hitchcock or a Nolan thriller and going all De Palma, while still taking itself entirely seriously. She looks fine next to her performance in something like Trespass, but the sudden descent into violent histrionics sells out both that atmosphere and the otherwise good work of the cast.

Before I Go To Sleep starts out very promisingly, but its paranoid thriller shape becomes overstuffed and then deflated almost before you realise it's happening. Coming from the page, the decision to make Christine's diary into a video diary is the kind of understated cinematic flourish that makes this a compelling adaptation to start with, but the jarring tonal change in the third act feels disorienting and challenging to its three leads in a far more frustrating and disappointing way. The first two acts just aren't good enough to make you forget about that ending.

Before I Go To Sleep is now showing at cinemas nationwide.
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I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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