Before I Go to Sleep Rowan Joffe
Published Oct 30, 2014The narrative conceit of Rowan Joffe's sophomore feature, Before I Go to Sleep, is remarkably similar to that of Christopher Nolan's cult hit, Memento. Much like the protagonist in that high-concept thriller, Christine (Nicole Kidman) suffers from anterograde amnesia, having to wake up every day with a fresh mind, relearning about the traumatic accident that left her in this state and re-acclimating herself to her dry, enervated, presumably defeated husband Mike (Colin Firth). Of course, to energize this highly implausible premise, a mystery arises about the nature of Christine's accident and Mike's reticence to tell her the whole truth.
What distinguishes Before I Go to Sleep from its predecessor is tone, subtext and ire. What S.J. Watson's novel did (that Rowan Joffe's adaptation does to a lesser degree) was focus on the mundane nature of Christine's life. There's nothing immediately fantastical about her predicament; she's ostensibly a housewife (not by choice) trying to make sense of herself and the handful of arbitrary domestic responsibilities she uses to keep occupied. Though this is present in the film and does help drive the thematic notion of a woman not being in control of her own destiny, the thriller elements dominate, propelling things quite rapidly into the central mystery when Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) calls Christine to inform her that she's been keeping a video diary hidden in her closet.
Since we're left in the same haze as Christine, given clues only when she's able to glean them for herself, there's an omnipresent tension that's handled quite effectively by Joffe's muscular, unembellished direction. As she discovers old friends she hasn't been in touch with and starts to understand why Mike has been lying to her, the situation escalates into moments of well-executed terror that stem specifically from the unknown.
As such, this throwback thriller — the sort of movie that might have starred Richard Gere and Sharon Stone 20 years ago — is a highly visceral, highly effective whodunit mystery with a subdued feminist slant. In part, this stems from Kidman's ability to sell wildly intense emotions that can often be hard to swallow and would have been laughable if handled by a less capable actor. Similarly, the story, if mired in repetitiveness or less respectful of audience intelligence, could have been painful if executed by a director with less of a focus on pacing and tone.
Yes, some of the plot points and ultimately the ending are a tad contrived and ham-fisted, but since everything else is so polished and kinetic, it's easy to forgive.