Nicole Kidman’s an amnesiac damsel in distress
Before I Go To Sleep
Starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong
Directed by Rowan Joffè
“Who are you?” asks Nicole Kidman’s character, Christine, in the opening scene to the man she’s just woken up next to in the bed.
It’s not a particularly unique movie situation—a lot of characters have found themselves in hazy morning-after scenarios. But in Christine’s case, she really, truly has no idea: She has a form of amnesia that makes her wake up every day totally blank about everything that happened the day before—and every day before that.
“You store up information for a day, and when you wake up in the morning, it’s all gone,” her husband of 14 years, Ben (Colin Firth) explains to her, and to us. We also learn, through Ben, that Christine’s memory loss was due to the head trauma of a terrible automobile accident, 10 years ago.
But was it? That’s only one of the questions that soon begin to pile up in director Rowan Joffè’s adaptation of British author S.J. Watson’s bestselling psychological thriller. Why doesn’t Christine trust Ben? Why does she have flashbacks of an airport hotel room, a violent assault by a man with a scar, and a woman named Claire? Why does her psychologist, Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), insist on seeing her without Ben’s knowledge, often in his parked car in a damp, underground garage?
Each morning, Christine receives a call from Dr. Nasch, instructing her to retrieve a digital camera from its hiding place in her closet. She watches the recording(s) she’s made on it previously, as her memories painfully, partially begin to rebuild again bit by bit every day. Suspicions mount, secrets are revealed, and things turn out to be different from what they seem—and from what Christine has been led to believe.
To say more would spoil the surprises (although probably not to anyone who’s read the book). But fans of contemporary mystery-suspense thrillers will get a kick out of following the twists and turns, and of cheering on Christine as she struggles to piece together her life from the scattered, shattered shards of her past—not to mention the even greater, bloodier struggle she faces in the movie’s final act.
Kidman has become quite adept in roles that suggest a certain physical frailty and vulnerability, especially when it can be stoked into wounded fury and ferocity. She evokes the audience’s total sympathies as Christine, not only operating in a memory vacuum, starting every day from scratch, but also seemingly being manipulated by those she’s come to trust. Firth and Strong, two terrific actors, only have one brief scene and one snippet of dialogue together, but they weave the tangled, mangled web of dramatic tension from which the entire movie is suspended.
Released just as Hollywood prepares to launch a barrage of box-office fall and winter heavy hitters, Before I Go To Sleep will likely get lost in the shuffle of bigger, flashier movies. It’s a little slow to get going, it sags and drags it bit in the middle, and its heavy-handed ending seems stitched on from a hammy, leftover Nicholas Sparks project. But for anyone who wants a stylish, somewhat brutal, Brit-centric bedtime story about deception, danger and Nicole Kidman in distress, well, sleep tight!
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine