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Before I Go to Sleep Review

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Ever since an accident years earlier, Christine (Kidman) wakes up each morning with no memory of her life. Her husband, Ben (Firth), seeks to orientate her, while Dr. Nash (Strong) tries to offer counselling. But Christine begins to question what they’re telling her.

★★★★★

Amnesia is Hollywood's favourite mental disorder, aiding and abetting all manner of plot twists by putting a film’s lead in the same clueless shoes as its audience. It strikes again in Rowan Joffe’s muted thriller, based on the bestseller by S. J. Watson, but at least he tries to go for an approach to the impairment that’s more creepy than dramatic.

Nicole Kidman is the memory-hampered Christine, beginning every day with no recall of anything in the dozen or so years since she was involved in an accident. Her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), wearily sets up his befuddled wife before he heads off to work — and every day Dr. Nash (Mark Strong) calls to tell her they have been meeting behind her husband’s back and invite Christine to another session.

Unsurprisingly, Kidman’s wan, fragile Christine is wide-eyed and wary, unsure whether she can trust herself, let alone either man, and as she starts a video diary to provide some measure of continuity to her life, it appears that something might really be amiss. But Joffe’s careful adaptation of Watson’s plot means that it remains unclear what that might be, and whether Christine herself is merely unravelling. He’s helped immeasurably by his cast, all on solemn, twitchy form as Christine’s suspicions ebb and flow.

The basic premise could have been schlocky movie-of-the-week stuff, but by casting far bigger and better stars than such an approach would require and shooting in a quiet, grey suburb, Joffe creates something a little more arthouse than a straight thriller — perversely increasing the tension by making the viewer wonder if this will entirely sidestep genre tropes and taper out quietly. But the story does build to something, and seems oddly weaker for it given the more elegant pauses that precede it. Perhaps it’s a limitation of the material, or overfamiliarity with the themes of the amnesia thriller, but you’re left wishing that the filmmakers hadn’t forgotten all that has gone before when approaching this.

Strong performances keep the viewer guessing as much as our heroine, but the character drama recedes as the thriller element builds, to its detriment.