Monday, March 16, 2015

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP

Following up on his smart remake of Brighton Rock, The American screenwriter Rowan Joffe's sophomore directing effort takes on S. J. Watson's best-selling pulp thriller about an amnesiac trying to piece together her past. In this well-made but rather disappointing film, Mr. Joffe is aiming at a would-be Hitchcockian take on something like Christopher Nolan's Memento, or a Dial M for Murder hinging on memory issues, where the plot is slowly revealed as the viewer follows the lead character's discoveries. But it turns out that Before I Go to Sleep is more of a Brian de Palma tease at the director's flashiest and least interesting.

     Christine (Nicole Kidman, very good in a Grace Kelly-ish sort of way) has no memory of anything before she woke up today, but as she heads into the bathroom, she finds all sorts of permanent reminders that show Ben (Colin Firth, proving there's more to him as an actor than the British gentleman), the man in bed next to her, is her husband. As he tells her every single day, after a horrible incident that left her unconscious, she is unable to form any new long-term memories; all she will learn in the course of the day will be undone as she goes to sleep. But after Ben leaves home for work, Christine receives a phone call from Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), a neurologist who has been treating her for some time now; as he picks her up, he gently reminds he's given her a camera to film herself every day so the accumulating footage creates a permanent memory, a permanent record of her past.

     The poignancy and ingeniousness of this device as Christine finds out about herself from the recorded segments, however, is quickly subsumed into the thriller plot. This is set in motion when both Ben and Nasch's stories start not quite adding up, when flashes of a child and a close friend start coming into the frame, when she realises not everything is as clear-cut as it seems. This could open up a whole new path, as we witness the amnesiac Christine suddenly having to navigate issues of trust and belief - not only of those around her, but even of her own self and memories.

     And therein lies what makes Mr. Joffe's film simultaneously so intriguing and so frustrating: it's a great premise, glossily and handsomely presented so as to make the plot's innate implausibilities fall to the background in true thriller fashion. But once the pieces start falling into places it becomes very clear, and highly predictable, where it all is heading, and you realise how much of what was left behind was merely obfuscation and sleight-of-hand. Everything was there in clear sight if you were attentive enough to look at it, and when the big twist comes in at the hour mark, it's somewhat disappointing how easy it was to see it coming and how suddenly one-dimensional Before I Go to Sleep becomes.

     What until then was a really rather decent film about a woman trying to keep her grasp on reality suddenly becomes yet another run-of-the-mill woman-in-danger melodrama (not entirely powerless, but nearly), with a neatly-wrapped ending that leaves at least one string of the bow untied. As well as a sour after-taste: you somehow feel conned that you invested this much in a nicely-made but rather hollow film that doesn't really make the most of the not inconsiderable talents involved. Almost as if the genuinely intriguing mystery the first hour teases was chopped down due to commercial considerations.

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP
United Kingdom, USA 2013
92 minutes
 Cast Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff
 Director and screenwriter Rowan Joffe; based on the novel Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson; cinematographer Ben Davis (colour, widescreen); composer Edward Shearmur; designer Kave Quinn; costumes Michele Clapton; editor Melanie Ann Oliver; producers Liza Marshall, Mark Gill and Matt O'Toole; production companies Scott Free Productions and Millennium Films in association with Studiocanal Features
  Screened March 9th 2015, Lisbon


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