On the Silver Screen – Before I Go to Sleep
Before I Go to Sleep is a thriller based on a novel of the same name written by S.J. Watson. Written and directed by Rowan Joffe this film focuses on Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) who wakes up with no memory of who she is or how she got there and becomes scared when confronted by a man named Ben (Colin Firth) who claims to be her husband. Ben tells her that she was in an accident and is unable to form long term memories so her mind resets each day and she has to start all over again. Unbeknownst to Ben, Christine is undergoing treatment from Dr. Nash (Mark Strong) who encourages her to keep a video diary so that there is some continuity to her life but to keep this hidden from Ben.
From pretty much minute one this film is deeply unsettling, the opening shot has the audience literally looking into the fear filled eyes of Christine helping to empathise with her plight and learn along with her. Kidman absolutely nails her performance in this film, coming across as terrified and vulnerable while being smart and strong willed. She is playing a woman who is coping with her situation as best she can and questioning everything around her as she trusts none of it.
We as an audience are nicely kept guessing through the stories Ben tells her about her life not quite matching what Dr. Nash tells her causing her to become more frightened and filled with doubt. Ben’s explanations for lying to her in those instances seem somewhat reasonable if a little misguided so they are somewhat easy to accept making the whole situation more unsettling as the story progresses. Colin Firth is well utilised as Ben as initially it seems as if the character he is playing is what you’d expect from him but -without spoiling too much- that expectation is used to trick the audience quite effectively. His reasons for lying to her cleverly becoming apparent once she meets with her friend Claire (Anne-Marie Duff) which reveals further aspects of her life that have been purposefully hidden from her.
As a plot device, the amnesia aspect is used really well, at times seeming almost Hitchcockian in the execution as well as evoking shades of Christopher Nolan’s Memento with the slow discovery of a life forgotten. The use of the video diary is great in helping the audience accept that Christine is suitably caught up day by day without overloading the narrative with repetition of the same information. The revelations come at a decent pace as well so the plot never feels like it sags at any point and the audience is never left wanting for information for too long; similarly the film never spends too long on specific memories. It’s also effectively used in the building of suspense and tension, something that the film does naturally throughout.
The third act brings the film down slightly by having a conclusion that feels somewhat typical and doesn’t mesh with the rest of the story. Tonally I felt like this was at odds with the rest of the film and it didn’t seem to fit. Mark Strong’s character is somewhat wasted as most of his screen time is devoted to expository dialogue rather than actually offering a meaningful contribution to the story.
A very tense suspense driven thriller with some clever twists in a clever story. Expert pacing and strong turns from each of the cast make this very effective in what it sets out to do. The film is brought down slightly by an uneven third act and far too much expository dialogue wasting a talent like Mark Strong. Nicole Kidman gives a standout performance and the story is strong and engaging.