Based on the worldwide best-selling novel, Before I Go To Sleep is a serviceable amnesiac thriller that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but does enough to make it a worthwhile entry in the genre. Writer/director Rowan Joffé faithfully adapts the novel but while the movie is a brisk hour and a half, it somehow loses the propulsive, page-turning energy that the book maintains throughout. The film routinely sidesteps the slow reveals of the source material in favor of Twists with a capital “T” that can come off as more manipulative than intriguing.
Nicole Kidman plays Christine Lucas, a forty-year-old English housewife who wakes up every morning thinking she is still in her mid-twenties with no memory of her current self. She wakes up next to Ben, played by Colin Firth, who says they have been married for years and that he has been taking care of her since the accident that caused her anterograde amnesia. When Ben leaves for work, Christine gets a call from Dr. Nasch, played by Mark Strong, who says he is a neuropsychologist who has been working with her to restore her memory by maintaining a secret video diary every day.
These entries serve as the narrative backbone of the film, allowing Christine to build a foundation from the blank slate that awaits her every morning and allowing the audience to catch various clues and hints that are presented. When she asks the same question on two separate days and gets different answers, mistrust forms and she knows that she is not being told the full story of her accident and what has happened since. This setup leads to a series of developments that range from tediously melodramatic to genuinely suspenseful, the latter applying most often to the film’s final act.
Kidman is very good here, finding creative layers of despair and confusion in a role that could have easily been repetitive and monotonous. Firth and Strong do what they can but they are ultimately pawns in service of the film’s twisty plot line. The look and feel of the film is generally chilly and removed, as evidenced by the steely blue color palette that it works from. While the story that it presents is indeed sad, the film does take itself quite seriously and perhaps some humor could have been injected to give things a more human and less sterile feeling.
Seeing this movie after having recently re-read the book, I was glad to see that the movie followed so closely with the original story’s revolving plot. Even though I knew the ending going in, I was re-taken into the story and somehow still surprised at points. Still, some deviations still managed to irk me, in particular a poorly-judged scene that involved a character’s misreading of a name tag and the triggering of a flashback that felt forced and contrived. Overall, Before I Go To Sleep is an admirable, if not totally memorable, effort.