After the awkward coupling of The Railway Man, Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth reunite as a convincing onscreen couple in Rowan Joffee’s amnesiac thriller Before I Go To Sleep.
Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman), the victim of a violent assault, wakes up every day unable to remember who she is. Donning a quietly panicked expression with a hint of paranoia, Kidman gets out of bed and wanders into the bathroom. Who is the man in the bed beside her? And where is she? A photo collage plastered on the bathroom wall provides some clues. She’s married to a doting husband, Ben (Colin Firth), who calmly explains that every day her memories are erased by sleep.
Ben leaves for work and an unfathomable Dr Nash (Mark Strong) calls. He wants to fix her memory and find her attacker. But can he be trusted? Christine has a secret video diary hidden at the back of the wardrobe. Before we can make sense of everything we’re flashed back, three weeks earlier, to the scene of the diary’s very first entry.
Essentially a whodunit, there’s a twist of Memento to the amnesiac-solves-crime plot. Is Christine’s assailant the doting husband, played with a wisp of darkness by a sympathetic, anguished Colin Firth? Or the concerned Dr Nash with a suspiciously compassionate bedside manner? Could Firth’s sorrowful eyes be those of an abuser?
Before I Go To Sleep’s domestic violence angle is it’s strongest, but it’s frequently overshadowed by elaborate twists and astonishing plot developments. This is a year of landmark thrillers, take Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin and Steven Knight’s understated Locke with its simple plot and stripped back concept, set entirely inside a car. Before I Go To Sleep takes a more conventional route, favouring an ornate plot centred on surprising revelations. It’s far more ordinary by comparison and requires increasing suspension of disbelief.
It’s the rapport of its leads - the spark between Kidman and Firth combined with Kidman and Strong - that smooths over Before I Go To Sleep’s numerous flaws including its repetition. ‘Is everyday the same?’ Christine asks as we watch her turn over the pages of a photograph album for the second time in two days. Kidman’s solo scenes, powered by agitated, jittery body language and nervous eyes, are the most monotonous and overdone. This constant, one-note terror - defined by a single unwavering expression - is both tiring to watch and leaves little room for Christine to grow. Yet, at just 92 minutes, Before I Go To Sleep is surprisingly watchable in spite of its repetitive streak and the one track plot rattles along nicely, culminating in a gripping finale.
Director, Rowan Joffee (Brighton Rock), favours the flashback - vague, suggestive, but never definitive memory snapshots - the muted colours of hopeless despair and the grainy, shaky tension of video diaries. There’s a hint of style here but in the post-Hitchock era and the days of the Scandinavian thriller, Joffee’s film feels very familiar. As it’s title prophetically suggests, Before I Go To Sleep entertains today only to be forgotten tomorrow.
Running Time: 92 minutes