Before I Go to Sleep
Nicole Kidman does a bunch of Oscar clip reel-ready acting in "Before I Go to Sleep," a genre film so ludicrously plotted that it's probably never even heard of the awards. She's Christine, a 40-year-old amnesiac who wakes up every day thinking she's an unmarried girl in her mid-20s, only to find that it's actually 2014 and she's been long married. (Cue a rush of "5000 First Dates" jokes.)
She wakes up next to Ben, played with an exasperated smile by charming-Brit-in-residence Colin Firth. Every morning, he comforts the horrified Christine -- walking her through photo albums and her own personal history, spending most hours of each morning playing life-story catch-up. But Christine has another man in her life, unbeknownst to Ben: A medical pro, Dr. Nasch, who instructs her to begin tracking her thoughts -- in essence, logging her memories -- in a secret diary. (The movie is more than a little bit indebted to "Memento," in both its amnesia conceit and its unraveling thriller-style plot.)
Christine keeps the diary, her memories start to pile up, and that soon unveils some lies Ben has been telling about her past. In one scene, Christine demands answers from him, screaming in the rain as he arrives home from work, her veins bulging. Firth tries to hustle her indoors, but Kidman remains defiant on the lawn, under the clouds. That's the kind of Nicole Kidman performance this is -- the loud, screaming-on-the-lawn kind; the kind she gave in "Stoker" and "The Paperboy." There are some scenes she could do dry in "Before I Go to Sleep," but she never misses a chance to do them soaking wet instead.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, because this film could use as many flourishes as it can find. This is a type of movie that's been made over and over again for a good 100 years now. The person who holds you in their arms each night may very well wrap those arms around your neck one day, while your back is comfortably turned -- that's a narrative set-up that will continue to evoke feelings for as long as men and women fail to trust each other, which is to say, for all of the foreseeable future. (See: Girl, Gone.) Some of my favorite filmmakers have even dipped their toes into this particular pool.
Max Ophuls made "Caught," about a woman who marries a charming playboy only to find that he's much more often on the downside of his manic-depressive nature than he is on the upswing. Hitchcock made "Suspicion," where Cary Grant played a scheming con-artist-type who marries a rich society girl, leaving her wondering just how far he'll go to get into her purse strings. And Fritz Lang made "Secret Beyond the Door...", a wonderfully hallucinogenic picture about a woman who marries up, only to find that her husband's strange fetish for recreating his favorite rooms has a strangely homicidal subtext.
That's what "Before I Go to Sleep" needed: Sone Langian hallucination. Not for Christine, but for us. Material this demonstrably ludicrous deserves a touch equally skewed. Director Roland Joffe knows how to do style: He's backed by the notably slick production team at Scott Free Productions, who do help to give the film some eye-teasing aesthetics, including a Tony Scott-esque use of different film formats to differentiate dreams, memories, and 'objective reality.' Yet, all these skewed colors and canted angles are mere tics, so rarely do they offer added insight into the characters, or the scene being played out, or the ideas being communicated. "Before I Go" demands a director as loony as its script -- one who could go as far as Kidman's performance goes. All it got was someone who could adequately riff on the style of the Scott brothers.