This is the sixth in a series of blogs I’ve called “A Year of Unlimited”, which isn’t perhaps the catchiest way to put it, but encapsulates my attempts to blog about every film I see while I’m signed up to the Unlimited service. I’m not linking to every one, so go and find them yourselves!
Finally – a non-blockbuster movie to review! I’d read the book that this film is based on about three years ago, and I would recommend it to any avid reader, though if you see this film first you might not want to read the book anyway (for reasons that become obvious on watching)!
Amnesia is always a story device that fiction comes back to, because it gives the reader or viewer that age-old emotional attachment to a character or characters called empathy. You know that it’s only the matter of an accident or illness that separates you from the protagonist, and that real-life link has made for many a popular film in the past (Memento from a serious perspective, the Bourne series for action aficionados, and 50 First Dates for Adam Sandler fans). Before I Go To Sleep is the latest example of this smaller genre of cinema, and follows Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman), who wakes up every day forgetting the past 20 years of her life, with her caring-but-clearly-cracking husband Ben (Colin Firth) having to explain where she is and who she is every morning. Christine also receives a call from Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) each morning, who’s been working with her to help improve her memory, through a video diary. And from there on in it’s spoiler territory…
I’d be the first to admit that I probably wouldn’t have seen this film had I not read the book – I’m judgemental like that – and while reading it before may have taken away many of the plot twists and turns for me, I thought this gloomy British drama was very well done, and a solid adaptation. Nicole Kidman is probably better in this film, in my view, than in many other films I’ve seen her in – she sells the sorrow, grief, perpetual confusion and distrust her character experiences, particularly in scenes that repeat over and over. It must be a maddening process (think Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and the effort that must have taken), and I don’t think it’s easy to make the first experiences of a new, blank day appear similar but different.
Colin Firth’s casting exploits and subverts his cinematic stereotype in an excellent way here, much in the same way as with Mark Strong. This is the strength of this film in many ways – taking two British actors very well-known for playing very defined character roles, and essentially messing with the audience as we try to discover what’s true or false in Christine’s life, specifically in her relationships with these two men. A few other characters appear, but not for long, and it’s one hell of an effort by director and screenwriter Rowan Joffe to not only adapt a potentially tricky, closed story to show-all, see-everything cinema, but also to find the right three actors to play these roles. The film also has a grim, modern sheen in terms of cinematography, perhaps reflecting both Christine’s sad, cyclical existence as well as the whitewash taking place each night in her brain. It makes Britain look British with a bit more gloom!
There’s not too much more that can be said other than not to judge this by its poster or stars – it’s a good film, it subverts your expectations based on Kidman, Firth and Strong, and it’s a worthy addition to the amnesia sub-genre.