Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: "Before I Go to Sleep"

"Before I Go to Sleep" isn't terribly original, which doesn't necessarily mean that a film won't be any good -- but in this case, it does.

The problem with this psychological thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth is that it contains no surprises. Even when the story is trying to shock us with a twist, we've already guessed everything long ago. Watching it is a 92-minute exercise in waiting for the movie to arrive.

It's not helped by a story that borrows heavily from "Memento." And by "borrow," I basically mean "steals the entire premise and narrative dynamic." Kidman plays Christine, who wakes up at age 40 thinking she's still in her mid-20s, because every night all the new memories she's acquired during that day flee from her mind.

She leaves notes and pictures for herself so can assimilate every morning, but also clues suggesting that a crime has taken place. Despite not being able to remember anything from the previous day, Christine begins to investigate the matter, which resulted in her being left severely beaten and with her faulty memory. She uses a digital camera to make a video diary to instruct herself on her latest discoveries.

If you'll recall from "Memento" -- it's been 14 years, but: spoiler alert! -- the amnesiac main character was actually being manipulated by others with nefarious intent. It becomes pretty clear that the same thing is going on here, so the question is figuring out who it is.

There are only two potential culprits: Christine's long-suffering husband, Ben (Firth), and her psychiatrist, Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong). She has good reasons to suspect both. The doctor takes the odd steps of calling her at home every morning to trigger her memory recall, and also picks her up in his car for treatment. Nasch insists that she not tell her husband about their sessions.

Ben, meanwhile, is a ball of half-truths and nervous energy. He insists he keeps information from Christine to protect her -- such as the fate of a close friend (Anne-Marie Duff) who apparently abandoned Christine after her injury, and another more devastating matter. He would seem to be a devoted husband -- he has to essentially convince her to fall in love with him on a daily basis -- but there are flashes of anger that are troubling.

Writer/director Rowan Joffe adapted the novel by S.J. Watson. He generally elicits solid performances out of his cast, though his handle on pacing and mood are lackluster. Often the movie is just a dull parade of phone calls, Kidman poring through photographs or documents, and similar expository shuffling of the cards.

I had problems with the particulars of Christine's condition, which are never satisfactorily explained. She has full recall of her activities throughout the day, but sometime while sleeping everything gets flushed. Has she tried staying awake all night to see what happens? If she wakes up to pee at 2 a.m., will her memory of the previous day still be there or not? What about 5 a.m.? Midnight? If she takes a nap in the afternoon, does that trigger the brain dump?

It's not that I find the notion of memory loss implausible. After all, I've watched hundreds of movies that I almost immediately forgot all about. This is destined to become one of them. Maybe if I just lay down for a little while; I am pretty tired...


"Before I Go to Sleep" isn't terribly original, which doesn't necessarily mean that

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