In 2007, a British audiologist named S.J. Watson wrote a psychological thriller about a woman with amnesia who, like the protagonist in “50 First Dates,” could not build short term memories because the initial event that caused the amnesia was so traumatic that her mind erased the slate clean each night while she slept.
The book became an international best seller, while the 2014 film adaptation starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong fell into almost immediate obscurity, earning just $15 million at the U.S. box office.
But there’s nothing that the actors could have done to elevate the film. The key performances are solid, but I’m guessing this film never generated word-of-mouth buzz because the first two acts proceed at a snail’s pace, and by the time the pace picks up we’ve already guessed the mystery and could have wagered fairly confidently how it would all end.
It’s tough reviewing mystery-thrillers because even a few beans spilled can be a bean or two too many for viewers who want to see for themselves. So this will be among my shortest reviews for Movie Met.
“Before I Go to Sleep” begins with Christine Lucas (Kidman) waking up in a bed with an unfamiliar man in an unfamiliar house. She walks to a wall that’s a collage of photos featuring the two of them and sees notes explaining that he’s her husband and that she begins every day with the same confusion, due to an accident that caused brain damage. Ben Lucas (Firth) seems patient and loving enough, but the first hint of mystery comes when Ben is gone and Christine receives a call from a Dr. Nasch (Strong), who tells her to look in the closet inside a shoebox and to take out the camera and play back what she had recorded the previous day. Why is this kept secret from her husband?
As this triangulated drama plays itself out, Christine is led to the brink of belief, and then to question everything she thinks she has learned about herself and the people in her life . . . among them a “best friend” named Claire (Anne-Marie Duff).
Rowan Joffe (“The American”) wrote the adapted screenplay and also directed this mystery-thriller, which, as I implied earlier, seems to suffer a bit from the compression required in the process and moves much too slowly to be thrilling in the early going and with too few clues and red herrings to be mysterious enough. In the absence of those things, the emphasis is on the psychological study of one woman’s fearful search for truth and identity. And Kidman holds up her end admirably. Her performance is the reason to see this film.
“Before I Go to Sleep” is rated R for “some brutal violence and language” and brief female nudity. It has a runtime of 92 minutes.
“Before I Go to Sleep” is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio and despite the dark and murky scenes that feed mysteries like this there’s a great deal of detail, even in shadows. Edges are strongly delineated and colors, though also muted, are as natural looking as the skin tones. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 25GB disc is a good one, and I saw only a brief hint of aliasing in one scene. That’s it.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that never reaches its full potential because the film is fairly low-key and dialogue driven. Unlike some thrillers, “Before” doesn’t rely on the crutch of music to build the suspense—only to complement it—so the effects speakers are mostly for ambient sounds. Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The bonus features are token on this disc, with minute-long clips of the three stars talking about their characters, a “Forget Me Not” promo made up of clips and interviews, and the theatrical trailer. That’s it.
“Before I Go to Sleep” is a moodily atmospheric drama that aspires to be more mysterious and thrilling than it ends up being. It’s more successful as a psychological study driven by Nicole Kidman’s frighteningly believable performance.