IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 92 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Ten years ago, Christine Lucas was found bruised and, except for a sheet, naked just outside a factory near an airport. She awoke to discover she had a strange form of amnesia – she can only remember stuff that happened today. Every morning when she wakes up, her memory has reverted to a point in her 20s. Every morning, she has to re-learn that the strange man in her bed is actually Ben, her husband of 14 years. And every day, she receives counselling from Dr. Nash, and begins to find out, and remember, bits and pieces about her past, but the Dr. suggests she doesn’t tell Ben about her counselling, and can Christine really trust either the Dr. or her hubby….
The Railway Man, released earlier this year, didn’t seem to impress many, but I rather enjoyed this easy-going ‘Sunday afternoon’ film that turned into something really quite intense and thought provoking. It seems that its two stars got on well, because here they are together again in a twisty thriller of the kind that were prevalent in the 1990’s but doesn’t seem too popular these days. Sometimes, in the right frame of mind, I find little that is more entertaining than a film like this, where the story constantly second-guesses you and the twists and turns thrown at you make you gasp in amazement, while you’re biting your nails as the tension is more and more tightly wrought. Before I Go To Sleep could do with a bit more suspense, but it certainly keeps you wondering what’s going on and there are times when you think you know something and in the next scene you’re proved wrong. Elements of the plot don’t really strand scrutiny, but wasn’t it Terence Young [director of three of the first four Bond movies] who said something to the effect that if the absurdities of an action film become obvious after it’s finished, the film has still worked, because you were too excited to think about such things while the film was playing? It’s the same with films like Before I Go To Sleep.
This film’s similarities to Momento have perhaps been overstated considering amnesia has been quite a common ingredient in film plots since at least the 1940’s, and in fact you can just as easily link it to Groundhog Day and its variants. It begins with a close-up of an eye and pans out to reveal Christine waking up in confusion. This happens every morning, because she always forgets the events of the previous day. Her poor husband has to constantly remind her of who she is. The doctor she’s seeing for counselling behind Ben’s back gets her to film herself at the end of each day, and this makes her pick up some things and gradually piece a few things together. But why does she begin to have flashbacks to a man attacking her? Why does said man look like Dr. Nash? Could Christine have a son? And is seemingly kind and patient [come on, he has to go through the same thing with her every day] Ben all he seems to be?
I haven’t revealed even the half of it, and this is one of those films you’ll enjoy the less you know. Of course it all winds up with our heroine having to fight for her life against a madman, but for most of its duration Before I Go To Sleep, even if it gets interesting right from the beginning, is quite downbeat and even laid-back. This is maybe appropriate considering one thinks several times that Christine could be dreaming, and the film certainly isn’t boring due to its constantly surprising storyline and excellent acting, but it could have done with trying to be a bit more unsettling despite a couple of brief dream sequences which are surely influenced by The Shining. Rowan [son of Roland, and director of that pointless Brighton Rock remake] does a decent job, and cinematographer Ben Davis uses yellow strikingly in a few scenes, but much of the film looks and feels a bit too much like a TV movie for much of the time. Also, it could really have done with some clarification on certain issues. Yes, I’m remembering the line with which I finished the first paragraph of this review, and I appreciate some films are better leaving much that is unexplained, but, if you do go and see Before I Go To Sleep, see if can work out what the hell Claire’s role was.
The Big Twist is rather effective though, and the film is made compelling throughout by its three excellent lead performances. Kidman has gone off the boil a bit of late, and she’s certainly not the big box office draw she was a while back, but she’s superb playing a woman in increasing fear as she tries to piece her life back together. Meanwhile Firth, an actor I never really think of as being top-class but really is if you think about some of the roles and performances he’s given of late, is even better. I’ve always sensed a cold darkness behind that face and that voice, and here it’s allowed to really come out, which it does in stunning fashion. Of course Strong is constantly good despite usually being somewhat typecast. With a decent but very much by-the-book score from Ed Shearmur, Before I Go To Sleep falls short of being a really distinguished nail-baiter, and I can’t see it being too good a second time around, but it has its strong points and I want to see more of this kind of movie on our cinema screens. It’s certainly great fun while it lasts, and often that’s enough.