Before I Go to SleepReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 10/30/14 15:47:01
"Before I Go to Sleep" offers viewers the chance to watch two Oscar-winning actors working in service to the kind of material that one might normally expect to see presented as a Lifetime Original movie starring Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and whoever the equivalent of Bert Convy might be these days. As dubious of a prospect as that may sound in theory, it is nothing compared to the actuality of this ludicrous load. Here is a film so convulsively and inadvertently hilarious that while it may not top "Left Behind" in the number of bad laughs in a 2014 release, it comes far closer to hitting that mark than anyone might rationally have expected. I am not the easiest laugh in the world when it comes to movies but by the time it reached its climactic moments, I promise you that I was laughing so hard that there were more than a few tears streaming from my eyes. Yes, I laughed and I cried, though if it becomes a part of me, I can only pray that there is some kind of outpatient care to deal with it.Nicole Kidman plays Christine Lucas--well, she thinks she is Christine Lucas. In fact, when she wakes up in the morning, she has no idea of who she is, where she is or who the person sleeping next to her is. That turns out to be her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), and he informs her that several years earlier, she had an accident that has played havoc with her brain and which causes her to lose all of the memories that she has accumulated during the day once she goes to sleep, leaving her mind a complete blank the next morning. Later, after Ben has gone to work, she receives a call from a Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), who says that he has been treating her in secret for the last few weeks. According to him, Christine was actually the victim of a brutal sexual assault and not of a simple accident. He also reminds here that she has been surreptitiously recording her day's memories on a camera so that she can get up to speed quicker after his morning call reminding her to check her camera.
With Dr. Nasch's help, Christine begins to recall some other fragments from her past. There is evidence, for example, that she had a child who does not seem to be accounted for and there was also Claire (Anne-Marie Duff), her best and apparently only friend who also seems to have vanished. As for her attacker, her occasional flashbacks are not particularly helpful from a visual standpoint but it appears that his first name was Mike. When Christine confronts Ben with questions about Claire and a child, he admits to their existence and tells her that he was only trying to protect her from disturbing news on both fronts. At first, Christine is willing to accept these explanations but as time goes on, other things begin to crop up for which he has no real explanation to speak of. On the other hand, Dr. Nasch seems more than a little suspicious as well--he doesn't seem to have any other patients than Christine, he is oddly insistent on taking her to visit places connected with her attack and one guess as to what his first name turns out to be. Clearly someone is doing something dastardly to poor Christine and it is up to her, despite her limited capabilities, to figure out who it is and why. If that fails, perhaps she can take her filmed recollections and attempt to pitch them to producers as an amnesiac riff on "Boyhood."
"Before I Go to Sleep" is the type of film that will no doubt be described by lazier critics and audience members as "Hitchcockian" and while that may be slightly true in terms of concept, the execution is so botched that it completely fails to reach the levels of tension and suspense synonymous with Robin Hitchcock, let alone Alfred. For a film like this to have any chance of working, it has to be constructed in such a way so that the story seems reasonably plausible, at least until the end credits run, and moves quickly enough to keep viewers from picking holes in the plot. On paper, for example, the story for a film like "North by Northwest" makes virtually no sense whatsoever but on the screen, it is told with such style and panache that it works despite its massive logical gaps. Similarly, and perhaps more relevant to the discussion at hand from a thematic standpoint, "Memento" tells a fairly preposterous story but does it so cleverly and so intelligently that it still somehow holds up despite the knowledge that the whole thing is nonsense.
Here, writer-director Rowan Joffe, working from the best-selling novel S.J. Watson, attempts to do the same but only manages to prove that he is no Hitchcock or Christopher Nolan. Even before the particulars of the plot are introduced, the narrative has already demonstrated more than its fair share of logical hiccups. Why are Christine and Ben out in the middle of nowhere? Why does Christine apparently not have a single person in her life to so much as look in on here from time to time? Since Ben is out all day at work and Christine is presumably unable to go anywhere or do anything, who cooks the meals or keeps their massive house neat and tidy? As the story goes on, the implausibilities begin to pile higher and higher and are further exacerbated by the inescapable fact that unless the narrative wants to pull a "Tightrope" and bring in a heretofore unknown character in the final reels, the bad guy presumably has to be either Ben or Nasch and once that is revealed, the story has figure out some way of wrapping everything up in a plausible and coherent manner that won't have the audience screaming "Oh, come on!"
Needless to say, it doesn't and the conclusion of "Before I Go to Sleep" must rank right up there as one of the dippiest denouements of any thriller ever made. Sadly, to get into specifics regarding the late inning idiocies would stumble into spoiler territory and as much as I would like to spill the beans, professional ethics prevents me from doing so except in the vaguest of ways. Suffice it to say, not only could I not believe that any of the events that transpired could have possibly occurred in real life, I could not even figure out what it is that certain parties hoped to accomplish out of all of this. Frankly, all they seemed to be doing is creating a ridiculous amount of work for themselves just to simply maintain the illusion of what has already been perpetrated with absolutely no end goal in sight. Even when the villain begins to realize what is going on and has the perfect chance to get out while the getting is good, they not only stick around to the bitter end but consciously make things worse for themselves for no discernible reason except to get to the finale. Having not read the book, I do not know if this disastrous display of faulty plotting differs from that found in the book or if this was pretty much how it played out in print. If it is the former, then Joffe should be ashamed of himself. If it is the latter, then Watson should be ashamed of himself.In the end, the only real mystery at the heart of "Before I Go to Sleep"--which is, when all is said and done, little more than a mildly psychotic and infinitely funnier version of "50 First Dates--is the question of why actors of the caliber of Kidman and Firth would want to associate themselves with the kind of goofball junk that might even give Nicolas Cage pause. The two have worked together before and presumably wanted to do so again but even at that, surely there must have been something--anything--in their various script piles that would have been better suited to their talents than this. If not, maybe we can all put are heads together and come up with an idea for a movie that they can do that would be smarter, slicker and more artistically satisfying than this one. Here's is an idea--they play a couple of acclaimed actors who find themselves trapped into starring in one of the silliest thrillers in recent memory. The horrifying twist--every morning when they wake up, they find that they remember everything, including the screenplay and their call times.
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