This thriller wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be, which is a good lesson to all those people who read critics’ reviews before deciding whether they will go and see a film.
I’d noticed that most newspapers were giving this a far from glowing review and had decided to give it a miss myself. However, Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode on Radio 5 convinced me otherwise. They didn’t mind the film; in fact Mayo quite like it. I was also inspired to watch it when I heard Nicole Kidman’s candid interview with Mayo, in which she was both gracious and honest about her bad movie choices, notably the disastrous Grace of Monaco. She didn’t wriggle out of the discussion nor make excuses. In fact, she stood by her decision to continue to make films that tested her and accepted that sometimes those choices won’t always be the right ones. Good for her, I thought.
In Before I Go to Sleep, adapted from SJ Watson’s excellent (apart from the ending) first novel, Kidman plays Chris, a 40-something woman who wakes up every morning with her memory erased. Ben, played by Colin Firth, patiently explains to her that he is her husband, she suffered a trauma several years ago and he loves her. He tells her about their life together, she flicks through their photo album, then he goes to work. We quickly realise that Ben has to dutifully carry out this ritual every day, as Chris can remember nothing about the last 20 years.
As soon as Ben has left the house for work, the phone rings and Chris listens to a Doctor Nasch (Mark Strong) explaining to her that he is a neurosurgeon who has been trying to help Chris. He tells her that she has a camera in the wardrobe in which she keeps a video diary, so that she can pick up from where she left off the day before. Ben doesn’t know about the camera and Dr Nasch encourages Chris to keep it – and him – a secret, in case Ben attempts to block Chris’s recovery. So, the question is: can we trust Ben?
The best thing about this story is ‘the not knowing who to trust’ aspect of it. And this is where the director Rowan Joffé stumbles slightly. At times he doesn’t seem confident about making this a really dark and chilling thriller, which is what it should be in my mind. There are many scenes where the pace is too slow, the camera shots too sweeping, which all serve to dilute the tension. Some scenes were almost comical and the end tugged on the heartstrings a tad too much.
All three main actors were excellent, although Kidman was given very little to work with. Her character is more layered in the book but she is one-dimensional in the film and often looked and acted like a Stepford Wife. However, she does hysteria very well.
The end scenes in both the book and the film failed to convince me and there are a lot of holes in the story when other characters from Chris’s past reappear. I wondered if the scriptwriters would change the end slightly to make it more convincing. Sadly they didn’t.
A strongly acted milky thriller which will be better enjoyed by those who haven’t read the book.