Wednesday 10 September 2014

Review: Before I Go To Sleep

World of Blackout Film Review

Before I Go To Sleep Poster

Before I Go To Sleep (Spoiler-free)
Cert: 15 / 92 mins / Dir. Rowan Joffe
WoB Rating: 5/7

It's a tricky business making a decent thriller these days. The temptation is there to put in too many twists in the mistaken belief that confusing the audience is the same as enthralling them, and if your original source-text is a novel (and a best-selling one at that), there's a strong chance that a lot of your viwers know how the story is going to weave, anyway. So what to do? Well, I'd suggest taking a leaf out of Rowan Joffe's book and concentrate on good storytelling and good film-making.

Making sure the audience never gets more bewildered than the story's amnesiac protagonist, Joffe crafts an intricate tale of trust, instinct and catastrophic memory-loss as Nicole Kidman's Christine awakes every day thinking she's twenty years younger after suffering a blunt-force trauma to the head ten years earlier. Of course, the bathroom mirror is her first wake-up call, followed by a daily recap from her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), as he tries to bring her up to speed without re-traumatising her on a daily basis. Christine makes contact with a neuroscientist (Mark Strong's Dr Nash) who tries to coax her damaged brain back into shape by suggesting she keeps a video diary to help her recall more of her missing past. But as fragments of her memory return, the ghosts of Christine's past threaten to tear apart the fragile present…

Now, it sounds so-so (and from the trailer, it sort of looks it too), but this is a very solidly put-together film. Especially given that Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth probably aren't the best choices for their roles. They do bloody well, certainly, but neither seems particularly at ease (which is also the point, admittedly), and you get the feeling that Joffe's restrained direction is stopping them over-egging the pudding*1. Mark Strong is good value for money as always, and other than a supporting role from Anne-Marie Duff as Christine's college-friend Claire, the three leads pretty much juggle the film between them. And despite my misgivings, they do it well.

My only serious grumble is that the final section feels like the end of a different film completely, and without having read S.J. Watson's novel, I can't be certain, but I'd say it's a studio-addition. It doesn't spoil the film at all, but it seems far 'neater' than the 85 minutes which preceded it (85 minutes which feel like a couple of hours, for the record, and I mean that in a good way). If you're going to see this soon, try and avoid spoilers to get the full effect of the story; unless you're a devotee of Kidman, Firth or Strong, there probably won't be too much in repeat-viewings, so make the first one count.

Hitchcockian in style and execution (and even musically, at one point), Before I Go To Sleep is a good film that almost becomes fantastic.

That said, if you're one of those people who likes to second-guess thrillers all the way through, you fully deserve the sense of mild disappointment you'll get when you realise it's not quite as twisty as you'd thought. Just enjoy the ride, eh?

Is the trailer representative of the film?
Fairly, although the film is better than the trailer lets on.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?
Mostly, yes.

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
Mostly, yes.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
You won't lose too much by watching it at home, but the cinema's good for keeping up the tension.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Will I watch it again?
At some point.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?
Didn't hear one, nope.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

And my question for YOU is…
Twice in the film, we see Christine watching the video of herself saying "My name is Christine… Christine Lucas", but when we see her actually recording that scene, she says My name… my name is Christine Lucas". There's also another instance of the recorded and played-back video having slightly different scripting/performance.
Is this deliberate? And if so, why?

*1 Although I have to admit there were a couple of moments where Kidman's perpetually confused, blank-faced, amnesiac caused me to wonder if she was acting-stunned, or just homaging her performance from Grace of Monaco

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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