Monday, July 6, 2015

Before I Go to Sleep


Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong

Rated R for Some Brutal Violence and Language

"Before I Go to Sleep" is another example of the phrase we critics toss around every now and then: good premise, bad execution.  The idea behind the film, an amnesiac who doesn't know whether to trust her husband or her doctor (or either), is a great concept.  Unfortunately, the film suffers from very little narrative momentum, flat characterizations, and a sorely miscast Colin Firth.

Christine (Kidman) can't make new memories.  When she goes to sleep, she forgets everything that happened during the day.  Her husband, Ben (Firth), assists her in every way he can, although there are times when it gets to be too much for him.  Christine is also in contact with Dr. Nasch (Strong), who says he's her doctor.  Ben doesn't know this, and Dr. Nasch tells her that it's better this way.  He also tells her to use a camera as a confessional to help her jog her memory.

More than that I won't say, since this is a movie that depends on surprises.  The problem is that director Rowan Joffe keeps everything low-key, and this is a movie that demands melodrama.  In a way, it's like "Gone Girl," a thriller that takes itself far too seriously.

There are three main performances in this movie, and of them, two are credible.  Nicole Kidman can always be counted on to give a good performance, and while her acting here is more than acceptable, she appears to be coasting through it.  It's still easy to get behind her, though, which helps a lot.  Mark Strong, the versatile character actor that he is, is also very good, treading the line between sympathy and suspicion like a pro.  Colin Firth, on the other hand, is sorely miscast.  In the right role, such as the stiff Brit that he is famous for, he can be a wonderful actor, but his range is limited to just that.  As an average guy he's okay, but when the role expands beyond that, it's like watching fingernails on a blackboard.

Director Rowan Joffe appears to have misunderstood the source material.  He thinks its a lot more original than it is.  Imagine if Paul Verhoeven had taken "Basic Instinct" seriously instead of embracing the cheesiness and over-the-top melodrama that was Joe Eszterhas's script, and you'll have some idea of the disconnect present here.  Granted, "Basic Instinct" isn't a particularly good comparison (a better one, including the flaws, would be "Side Effects"), but you get the idea.

"Before I Go to Sleep" isn't a total loss; Kidman and Strong are always good, and there are a couple of neat twists in the second half.  But it would have been better had I actually cared.

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