Directed by: Rowan Joffe
Premise: A woman (Nicole Kidman) suffering from amnesia wakes up every day unable to remember the past twenty years and must be reminded of her marriage and family and the accident that caused her condition. As the amnesiac tries to reestablish her identity, she questions the motives of everyone around her.
What Works: Before I Go to Sleep has a clever premise and the film works best when the moviemakers find ways to use it creatively. This is a story about what we know and what we assume and how those two things bleed together. The film opens with Nicole Kidman’s character waking with a man she doesn’t recognize and finding that she has lived a life that she has no memory of, including a marriage and a child. She then meets with a doctor who is consulting her in secret but his agenda is mysterious. Kidman’s character attempts to piece together her life by creating a video diary of what she learns about herself each day and views those video entries the following morning. With each day Kidman’s character has radically different experiences and the way in which information is retained, lost, or distorted makes the film a philosophically interesting piece about memory and identity. Dramatically speaking, Before I Go to Sleep is a mystery and a thriller and the movie is able to stoke audience interest by manipulating the viewer’s expectations and understandings of the characters and the circumstances of the story. The film also benefits from solid performances by its main cast. Throughout her career, Nicole Kidman has shown a willingness to take on difficult parts in challenging movies such as Eyes Wide Shut, Dogville, Birth, and Stoker. Although Before I Go to Sleep isn’t quite as demanding as some of those films, Kidman’s performance is impressive and she has a challenging part to play in this film. Colin Firth plays the man who claims to be her husband and Firth is also impressive. Firth is generally cast in good guy roles but this film requires him to be an ambiguous character and he’s able to walk that line. Mark Strong is featured in a supporting role as the doctor and like Firth, Strong alternates between caring gestures and sinister implications.
What Doesn’t: Before I Go to Sleep doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of its premise. The filmmakers leave a lot of the potential of this story unexploited and the novel premise of the movie suffers from logical lapses and plot holes. The filmmakers aren’t entirely consistent with the amnesiac’s condition. She seems to remember more and make connections faster as the movie goes on. The plotting is irregular and despite running only ninety-two minutes Before I Go to Sleep really drags in parts. This is partly due to the sterility of the action. The majority of the picture consists of scenes of the characters in the home or in a car where they sit and chat. The picture just isn’t cinematic enough and the filmmakers are unable to use the motion picture form to better manipulate the audience’s understanding of reality. The pacing of the movie is also hurt by the lack of decisive moments. The film has a fragmented feel that befits the subject matter but Before I Go to Sleep does not have narrative momentum that sweeps the viewer into the drama. The action picks up significantly in the climax but when the truth is revealed it is underwhelming. The movie sets up the viewer to expect something more sophisticated than what’s finally revealed. Before I Go to Sleep sours in its denouement. The ending attempts to neatly tie off the movie but it makes a lot of the film seem ridiculous and the final scene is unnecessarily soppy.
Bottom Line: Before I Go to Sleep has some good performances and an interesting premise but it isn’t quite able to give those performances or ideas the movie that they deserve.
Episode: #517 (November 9, 2014)