Before I Go to Sleep: Nicole Kidman’s memory is gone girl

by Mark Burger

Amnesia, that perennial gimmick of suspense thrillers, is at the fore of Before I Go to Sleep, an adaptation of S.J. Watson’s novel by writer/director Rowan Joffe, the son of filmmaker Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, The Mission) and actress Jane Lapotaire.

The onscreen sufferer this time is Nicole Kidman as Christine, who awakens every morning and can’t remember a thing after the trauma, which caused her condition. Colin Firth plays her caring, attentive husband, and Mark Strong her caring, attentive therapist. But if Christine’s going to piece together the puzzle of her past, she’s got to do it herself “” and this, naturally, puts both her sanity and life in jeopardy.

Before I Go to Sleep’s big-screen antecedents would include Wolfgang Petersen’s Hitchcockian Shattered (1991) and, of course, Christopher Nolan’s 2000 breakthrough Memento, with director Jaffe providing visual nods to Hitchcock, Kubrick and De Palma throughout the proceedings. In a film such as this, style can easily supersede substance “” and that’s precisely what happens here.

Before I Go to Sleep might be an exercise in exposition (not all of it on the level) and narrative sleight-of-hand, but the actors bring a conviction to their roles that keep the momentum moving forward.

Kidman, nicely adopting a British accent (not as easy as it might seem for an Aussie), radiates an intense curiosity as the beleaguered Christine; Strong, something of Britain’s answer to Stanley Tucci, twitches judiciously as the zealous doctor; and Firth is clearly enjoying himself as the seemingly mild-mannered spouse. Anne-Marie Duff also scores as Christine’s friend, who lends some important background information.

Needless to say, some characters aren’t who or what they seem while others qualify as red herrings. Before I Go to Sleep is more competent than classic, but the actors are good company and the film kills time smoothly enough.