Two stars. Rated R, for violence, pointless profanity and fleeting nudity
By Derrick Bang
This modest thriller opens with an intriguing first act, loses momentum in the second, slides into stupidsville during the climax, and concludes with a sappy epilogue that drew well-deserved snickers of disgust from Wednesday evening’s preview audience.
Truly, a lamentable waste of an A-list cast.
UK author S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep was an auspicious debut novel in the spring of 2011, climbing bestseller lists on both sides of the Atlantic, earning translations in more than 40 countries, and galloping home with two significant crime writers’ awards. I can only assume that the premise and execution worked far better on the printed page than here, via director Rowan Joffe’s screenplay ... although I note that even some of Watson’s complimentary critics complained about his contrived denouement.
Actually, contrived isn’t strong enough. As executed by Joffe — a clumsy scripter thus far known for leaden adaptations of thrillers by Martin Booth (The American) and Graham Greene (Brighton Rock) — this manipulative psychological mystery completely falls apart during post-mortem analysis. It utterly fails the “driving home” test, as unhappy patrons pick apart details and plot element which, in the final analysis, don’t make sense and simply couldn’t happen in the real world.
Which is a shame, because — as a director — Joffe establishes a reasonably tense and unsettling atmosphere as the story begins.
Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) wakes each morning frightened and confused, in a bed, bedroom and house that are wholly unfamiliar, having slept next to a man who appears a total stranger. That would be Ben (Colin Firth), who gently, patiently explains that he’s her husband, and that they’ve been married for years. She doesn’t remember any of this, he continues — quiet despair clouding his eyes, as we realize that he has repeated this well-worn script hundreds (thousands?) of times — because she suffers from psychogenic amnesia, the result of a traumatic traffic accident.
Christine begins each day believing that she’s still a single woman in her 20s, when, in fact, she’s a 40-year-old wife. She can absorb and process information each day — assisted by displays of photos and messages that Ben has posted throughout their house — but she forgets all the “new” information each time she sleeps. And then, the following morning, the whole heartbreaking ritual takes place again.
Kidman is persuasively disoriented, her wary eyes flickering between this man she doesn’t recognize, to the rooms of a strange home that are filled with photographic reminders of years spent with him: wedding and vacation pictures, casual shots of her wearing clothes that hang in the closets ... everything that indicates a long and deliriously happy life at Ben’s side.
Ben heads for work each weekday morning — he teaches at a nearby school — and leaves Christine to re-discover her life, become re-acquainted with her surroundings. By dinnertime each evening, she has come to accept and appreciate how ghastly this is for her: and also for sad, faithful Ben, who clearly hopes that, the following morning, she’ll know who she is without being prompted.
But no; the pattern has remained fixed for years.