Synopsis: This psychological thriller is based on the worldwide best-selling novel about a woman who wakes up every day remembering nothing – the result of a traumatic accident in her past – until one day, new terrifying truths emerge that force her to question everyone around her…
Release Date: October 31, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Thriller, Drama
Amnesia is a great plot device for a movie. Whether it’s an intense drama like Memento, or a screwball comedy such as 50 First Dates, the lack of a memory in a character can lead to some unforgettable cinematic moments for an audience. The newest movie to explore the amnesia fad is the Nicole Kidman (Stoker) vehicle Before I Go to Sleep.
Before I Go to Sleep stars Kidman as Christine Lucas, a woman who wakes up every morning with no memory of the previous day, and thinking she is in her twenties when, in reality, she is forty years old. Every morning her husband, Ben (Magic in the Moonlight‘s Colin Firth), explains to her that she was in an accident years ago and has lost the ability to form memories that will last beyond the current day. Ben shows her a collage of photos taped to a wall as proof of what he is saying; photos of the couple at their wedding and on vacations. One morning, after Ben has left for work, Chris gets a call from a doctor named Nasch (Mark Strong from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) who says that he has been treating her. Dr. Nasch tells her to look in a shoebox in her closet where she finds a camera. The camera contains a video diary that Chris has been keeping, recording herself saying what she has learned about her past every night so that the next morning, when Dr. Nasch calls and tells her where it is, she can check it and fill in some gaps. Dr. Nasch tells Chris that she has been seeing him without her husband’s knowledge, and that he would like to keep it that way. Meanwhile, the more Chris learns about her past, the less faith she has in her husband. Chris struggles to find out who she can trust, but both her doctor and her husband have secrets that they have been keeping from her.
Before I Go to Sleep was adapted for the screen by writer/director Rowan Joffe (28 Weeks Later, The American) from the bestselling novel “Before I Go to Sleep” by S.J. Watson. It’s a great adaptation; Joffe takes the solid storyline and makes it more visual, inserting aspects that could only work in a film version. Chris’ amnesia gives plenty of opportunities for drama and suspense, and there seems to be a jaw-dropping revelation behind every unexpected turn in the plot. Chris is in every scene, so the viewer basically learns her history at the same time that the character does so the audience pieces together the puzzle along with her. This leads to plenty of tense moments as Chris tries to figure out which of the people in her life she can trust. Before I Go to Sleep is a good, old-fashioned mystery, but with higher stakes than the average whodunit since it’s the actual victim who’s forced to solve it. The movie is well put together, evenly paced, and contains enough twists and turns in the plot to keep the audience guessing right until the end. And then…there’s the ending.
For as gripping and riveting as Before I Go to Sleep is, Rowan Joffe really blows it with the ending. Without revealing any spoilers, the ending caters to all of the soccer moms in the audience. The filmmaker goes Nicholas Sparks when he should have stayed Brian De Palma. The resolution is a tacked-on scene that cleans things up just a little too neatly, and audiences should be able to expect more after the ninety minutes of pure suspense that they just experienced. It’s a cop-out.
Nicole Kidman is on point in Before I Go to Sleep. The role of Christine Lucas is a tough nut to crack, but Kidman turns in a masterful performance, completely selling the combination of utter confusion and sheer terror that the character feels. It’s her best performance in years. The film belongs to Kidman, but the guys get to flex their chops as well. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are equally effective, both playing ambiguous roles, and both actors are careful not to tip their hands too early. Firth and Strong are able to muddy the waters almost as fast as Kidman can clear them, and that interplay drives the film. Before I Go to Sleep is a psychologically demanding film, and the actors breathe tons of life into their respective characters. There are no glamorous roles in the film, and all three principals get down and dirty. There’s not a weak link in the chain; all of the accolades will go to Kidman (and deservedly so), but Firth and Strong hold their own opposite her.
The cinematography in Before I Go to Sleep tells the story almost as effectively as the screenplay. Director of photography Ben Davis (Guardians of the Galaxy, Kick-Ass) is able to reveal more about Chris’ character in one shot than the spoken exposition can tell in an entire scene. In the beginning of the film, Davis shoots with a very shallow depth of field, so that Chris is the only image of the frame that is in focus. As she gains more information about herself and her past, the focal plane grows wider and more of the picture is clear, both literally and figuratively. This is a brilliant way to illustrate Chris’ confusion as she struggles to come to grips with her situation; Davis’ use of selective focus perfectly underscores the character’s growing enlightenment as she learns more about her history. Davis also uses plenty of handheld and Steadicam shots, a technique which emphasizes Chris’ mental instability and shock over her discoveries. Ben Davis may have built his reputation by shooting big action films, but Before I Go to Sleep proves that he can dial it back when he needs to, and his minimalistic approach reinforces the thematic ideas in the film.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Roawn Joffe
- Screenwriter(s): Rowan Joffe
- Cast: Nicole Kidman (Christine)Colin Firth (Mike)Mark Strong (Dr. Nasch)
- Cinematographer: Ben Davis
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Ed Shearmur
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA