Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Brutal Violence and Language
Directed by: Rowan Joffe
Written by: Rowan Joffe
(based on the novel BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S.J. Watson)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff & Dean-Charles Chapman
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP bombed at the box office this past weekend (not even cracking the top 10). I was surprised to see that the film was even released wide (over 1,000 screens). It might have been bigger in the UK (where it was released nearly two months ahead of its USA debut), but Kidman, Firth, and Strong aren’t as big as they should be around here. The plot hearkens back to an older era of thrillers from the 60’s and 50’s that might fly over the heads of younger viewers. In fact, those who will appreciate BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP the most are probably fans of the great Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography. This all being said, the film is not without its problems. Ultimately, SLEEP winds up as a thriller that’s satisfying enough, but could have been something more.
Based on the 2011 hit novel by S.J. Watson, SLEEP centers around Christine Lucas. She’s a 40-year-old housewife with a rare form of brain damage. Her mind erases memories overnight as she sleeps. Every day is a new experience for her and helped along by Ben, her husband, walking her through the same steps of her life over and over. Unbeknownst to Ben, Christine is being treated by a neurologist named Dr. Nasch who has her keeping a video journal that she watches every morning. Christine discovers that her brain damage was caused by a vicious attack and she was left for dead. Trying to discover who would do such a thing to her and why, Christine unearths new information about her old life and finds that either Ben or Dr. Nasch might not be as innocent as they seem.
I appreciated that BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP doesn’t treat its viewer like idiots. Other bland thrillers might try to pretend that the obvious suspicious person in the room isn’t suspicious and play this revelation up as a huge twist in the climax. A certain character comes off as a possible antagonist and SLEEP doesn’t hide this. There’s a sustainable amount of well-built suspense that hearkens back to Hitchcock’s work. This is a case of a thriller taking place in a fairly mundane setting and milking some really good tension out of the premise. A diabolical twist midway through had the few other people in the audience with me gasping out loud. All I could think while watching this scene play out was “Oh, that’s brilliant!” Unfortunately, the movie never goes to the levels it should after that reveal. It happens near the middle of the movie, so that’s a problem. The premise also never takes off after that build up.
The faults in BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP don’t fall on the performers. Nicole Kidman is appropriately skittish, but likable as a most unusual protagonist. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are caring and suspicious in equal measure until an unexpected twist is revealed. Firth and Kidman (who starred as a couple in THE RAILWAY MAN earlier this year) also have far more believable chemistry this time around, than in that underseen drama. This cast is rock solid and make a sometimes flimsy script into something watchable, even when it does get dumb in the final minutes. One of the most important scenes feels very rushed, while the actual final scene is overly melodramatic and drawn out. It nearly got to the point of a Lifetime movie material with a sappy trying-to-be-tear-jerking conclusion. This is an example of an ending that ties everything up with a bow and then continues for longer than it has to in order to reassure everyone that the plot turned out this way.
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP has a really cool premise and good performances, along with an ingenious twist midway through. The film also doesn’t treat its viewers like morons in the sense that creepy suspects are obviously creepy. After a certain point in the story, the film should have taken off and doesn’t. The ending is also way too sappy and feels like a made-for-TV conclusion. This being said, the movie builds a good amount of tension and kept me interested in where things were going the whole time. Though it’s disappointing in the long run and never takes full advantage of potential craziness, BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is a decent thriller in the vein of Hitchcock.