Release Date: 5th September 2014
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Rowan Joffe
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong
It would seem that Oscar-Winners Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman are on a quest in 2014 to star exclusively in poorly made yawn-fests. This is the second time this year their paths have crossed: they were also husband and wife in January’s mediocre historical drama The Railway Man, as well as individually starring in howlers The Devil’s Knot and Grace of Monaco. Before I go to Sleep is a thriller with all the suspense and class of a true-life story from Take a Break magazine, nestling comfortably between such front cover stories as ‘He wrote me poems… then attacked me with a meat cleaver!’. To reveal this story’s front cover line would of course spoil the ‘revelation’ two thirds of the way through, although it’s likely that anyone who has seen more than 3 films in their lifetime will have guessed by then, and will be impatiently waiting for the characters to play catch-up.
Christine Lucas (Kidman) wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed lying next to a complete stranger (Firth). Understandably frightened and confused, the stranger then wakes up and attempts to comfort her by relaying her story up til now. He’s her doting husband Ben, whilst she suffers severe amnesia and forgets everything from the day before every time she goes to sleep. Listlessly wandering the bleak rooms while Ben goes to work, Christine starts to receive phone calls from Dr. Nash (Strong); a doctor who calls every morning to remind her to record a daily video diary, and to keep it secret from her husband. This process allows her to reveal some hidden secrets about her past, leading up to its glaringly obvious revelation, aided by a sequence featuring some laughably bad photoshop.
Director Rowan Joffe is clearly aiming for a Hitchcockian atmosphere, but falls far from the mark. At 94 minutes, this should feel lean and decently-paced. Instead it feels flabby and slow, the repetitiveness of its central premise not utilised with the same sense of intriguing mystery that permeates far superior amnesia thriller Memento. It feels like an episode of a derivative crime show like Criminal Minds ; one which strays dangerously close to a kind of victim porn where women are supposedly our sympathetic central characters, but also the victims of horrendous abuse.
It’s possible that some of these flaws are the fault of the source material (it is based on a novel of the same name), however there is too much supposed talent involved in this to produce such a shoddy piece of pulpy nonsense. Kidman does her best quivering, vulnerable housewife impression, while Colin Firth is vaguely unhinged and Strong is handsome but unsettling. These aren’t characters though, these are just walking cardboard cut-outs with not an ounce of humanity or personality between them. Not only that, but it leaves a genuinely bad taste in the mouth. Before I Go to Sleep is nasty and it also has nothing to say; it’s a film that damns misogyny, whilst also making the misogyny itself part of the screwed up entertainment. It feels like it’s arrived 20 years too late; it should have been released in the early nineties starring Michael Douglas and Cher. In a welcoming twist of irony, at least then we could have forgotten about it and moved on.