The scenes shared by Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in The Railway Man earlier this year were the highlights by far of an otherwise disappointing picture. Both stars are excellent independently of one another, but there’s clearly something about pairing them up that lifts the work of both.
The two share a lot more screen time in Before I Go To Sleep, writer/director Rowan Joffe’s adaptation of the apparently strong book by S J Watson. In fact, they’re in each other’s arms as the movie opens, although we quickly learn that all is not well. Kidman’s character, Christine Lucas, is suffering from memory loss after an unexplained incident. Each day, Firth’s Ben Lucas needs to remind her of where she is, who he is, and her recent history. Then, when she goes to sleep and wakes up again the following day, he has to do it all again.
There’s almost a stage-like quality to the establishing of this routine, as the film has to replay similar events time and time again, which is does efficiently and steadfastly seriously. Furthermore, Kidman and Firth, it soon becomes clear, are much better than the material, and both invest the film with quality performances, that pique interest in the movie.
Gradually, Before I Go To Sleep pulls back a little, introducing a few more charatcers, although generally it keeps its focus on just a small handful. Mark Strong’s Dr Nasch throws the spanner in the works, as he begins to help Christine rebuild her memories. It’s clear that there’s more going on here than it first appears.
The story ultimately hinges on a couple of key moments, which I’m reliably informed work exceptionally well in the book. One of them works exceptionally well in the film too, although there’s a double edge to it. So well done is one particular moment, that it can but only highlight how drab pretty much everything else is. It’s an ordinary telling of a story we’re getting here, and it’s two casting decisions away from straight to DVD purgatory.
Before I Go To Sleep has been scheduled to arrive a month before David Fincher’s film of Gone Girl, and I suspect that’s where you’ll see how much difference a director can make to the translation of a hit thriller novel to the film. Rowan Joffe’s admirable plan is to keep things contained, but he overdoes it. There’s one narrative thread to be interested in, and once that’s been investigated, you plod along with characters less interesting than the actors portraying them, before you get to an ending that, it would be fair to say, is not tricky to predict.
The running time of Before I Go To Sleep is brief, clocking in at an hour and a half. But it does feel a good deal more. For the price of an admission ticket, you could probably get both Christopher Nolan’s Memento on DVD, and a copy of the book this film is based on. Stick some pictures of Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman on your wall to complete the effect, and you’ll be getting a better return for your investment.
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