“Before I Go to Sleep” is the kind of thriller that used to be shown on late-night cable or rented on video cassettes.
It doesn't try to be edgy or new, it’s content to be lazy sometimes, and it lets a few things slide. If you don't demand too much from it, it has a few pleasant surprises. Nicole Kidman stars as Christine, a 40-year-old woman with amnesia. She's able to store up memories during the day, but when she sleeps, everything is erased, back to when she was in her 20s.
Each morning she wakes up next to a strange man (Colin Firth), who introduces himself as Ben, her husband. He explains who she is, and shares a few important details, such as the fact that she's allergic to cashews. He shows her photos of their life together. He tells her he loves her.
After Ben leaves for work, she receives a phone call from another strange man, Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong). He tells her to find the video camera she has hidden in her closet and watch what's recorded on it. It's her video diary, her own way of keeping memories. After the viewing, Nasch meets Christine each day for various tests and interviews.
It’s a strong setup. But writer-director Rowan Joffe, who adapted S.J. Watson's novel, then avoids big questions and instead leaves a series of clues (or red herrings), pointing to things that are terribly wrong in this situation. While some are effective, others seem to be place markers.
What Joffe doesn't really do is exploit the amnesia theme. If Christine fails to record crucial information that could save her life, it will be gone the next day – a notion that could have made the movie terrifically suspenseful.
Christine is a fairly passive character, a victim, relying on others to help her. Thankfully, Kidman, still a great movie star, brings an appealing vulnerability to the role. Our hearts go out to her.
On the other hand, supporting characters seem to have been cast more for their external effects rather than for their emotional centers. Joffe is the son of Oscar-nominated director Roland, who made “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission” and later degenerated into bad thrillers like “Goodbye Lover” and “Captivity.”
While the younger Joffe appears to have landed closer to his dad’s lowbrow thrillers than the high-minded dramas, at least “Before I Go to Sleep” is intermittently satisfying. It's just not easy to remember in the morning.
Before I Go to Sleep
Two and a half stars
Starring : Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff
Written and directed by: Rowan Joffe
Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes