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Before I Go to Sleep is a memory based psychological thriller based on the popular British novel of the same name. While it is a movie that succumbs to thriller clichés, it succeeds by having a great cast, character drama and showcasing the potential for writer/director Rowan Joffé.
Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) is a 40-year old woman who, after an incident, has anterograde amnesia and has no memories of her life beyond her early 20s. She lives with devoted husband, Ben (Colin Firth) and has photographs all around her to remind her of her old life. But Christine has been secretly meeting with Dr. Nash (Mark Strong), a neuro-psychiatrist who has been trying to help her regain her memory and tells her she has been brutally attacked years ago. As she suffers from memories and flashbacks of her old life, she seeks to rediscover that life and in doing so, does not know who to trust.
Before I Go to Sleep shares a premise with the classic thriller Memento. Both movies are about people with short term amnesia having to solve a mystery about their past. While Before I Go to Sleep is not up to the quality of the Christopher Nolan movie, it has a strong dramatic centre. Kidman and Firth were brilliant together in their second movie of 2014 where they play husband and wife (the first was The Railway Man). As Christine, Kidman is a woman who is constantly having to learn about her past and re-live her tragedies. Kidman gives a terrific performance as she goes through the emotional ringer and Firth shows his full range as an actor, being sweet and sinister.
The thriller hook of Before I Go to Sleep is finding out what happened to Christine and figure out what her husband is up to. Yet the stronger element is the dramatic story of Christine finding out about her own past life and her own identity. She has to rely on other people, photographs and her video diary to be her memory as her own world view can change in an instant if she receives any new information. Her mind resets every night and she has to relive the same pain every day as she pieces together the few flashes and memories that occur.
Before I Go to Sleep could have easily been a TV film; it is a small scale story set in homes and it is a movie that could have easily been made for the BBC or ITV in the UK. Yet, it is elevated due to the quality of the cast and the acting and the talents of Rowan Joffé (son of The Killing Fields‘director Roland Joffé). He used hand-held camera movements and long takes allowing natural performances and he allows for flashes when showing Christine’s flashbacks, using grainy filters to highlight the ambiguity in her mind. Joffé was fearless with his portrayal of violence and how it was used on Christine.
Though Before I Go to Sleep was successful as a drama, it was as a thriller and mystery where the movie falters. Joffé uses old clichés s such as creaking stairs and Christine is playing catch up to what the audience already knows. It is serviceable, but offers nothing new or refreshing to the genre.
Before I Go to Sleep will not compete with psychological memory based thrillers like Memento, The Machinist and Shutter Island, but it will still please fans of the genre and is blessed with a brisk pace, fantastic acting and its drama as a woman learns about herself.