"No one knows... no one but you."
In the 13 years since Christopher Nolan's Memento and David Lynch's Mulholland Drive reinvented the amnesia thriller, very few movies have used the incredibly rare affliction in a serious way. It seemed as if those two films more or less did just about everything that could be done with that particular plot device, and it was now relegated to action movies such as the Bourne films, ridiculous comedies like 50 First Dates, and Nicholas Sparks weepies like The Vow. Nevertheless, when it was announced that the bestselling book Before I Go to Sleep was being adapted into a film with a pretty formidable cast, it seemed as if perhaps the amnesia thriller was back.
It's a shame, then, that the film turned out to be soft-focus nonsense better suited to Lifetime than a bill shared by two Oscar-winners. As Christine, a woman suffering from the old "in 24-hours your brain will entirely reset" brand of amnesia, Nicole Kidman is appropriately scared and suspicious of everyone around her, and the audience will do well to follow her lead. Christine must rely on three specific people to piece together what happened to cause this condition. The first is her husband Ben (Colin Firth), who has more or less put his entire life on hold to care for Christine and bring her some sense of normalcy. The second is Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), a neuropsychologist who enlists Christine's help in preparing a paper on atypical types of amnesia, and who seems to be helping her leave a trail of breadcrumbs that will aid in recovering her memory.
The third person, however, is Christine herself, and she does this by leaving herself various and purposefully enigmatic clues for her to discover when she once again wakes up with no memory of her life. This is sort of where any film like this lives or dies, and the fact that Memento did this entire plot device to perfection already makes it disheartening to discover that this film seems content to rehash it yet again, if only as a means to an end. With relatively no supporting cast to speak of, this becomes a three-hander, and thankfully these are all incredibly talented actors who can do quite a bit with very, very little, and so spending ninety minutes in their company is certainly not a terrible proposition.
It's other great asset is that aforementioned running time. The film doesn't overstay its welcome, and rips through scenes with a ton of momentum, it just doesn't service the plot as well as a more expansive running time might have. Compare this film, though only for a moment, with this month's Gone Girl. Both books run just of 400 pages, yet there's nearly an hour's difference in their film adaptations' running time. When one further considers the amount of subplots and information that the film Gone Girl jettisoned, I can only imagine how much stuff was cut from this book to get it down to 90 minutes. This ends up leaving the whole endeavor with the pungent stench of a Reader's Digest version of the book.
As any fan of The Sixth Sense will tell you, if a film's got a great twist, it can cure a multitude of sins--a significant multitude in that particular film's case. Therefore, it's doubly disappointing that this film's twist is so preposterous, and ultimately relies on such a Herculean suspension of disbelief, that it falls apart almost as it's happening. The initial twist is actually pretty good, and though it is projected a bit too much, too soon, it's the aftermath and the ramifications of said twist that require downright pole vaulting leaps of logic. You may just go mad exploring all the potential "but what about this?" questions that will arise on the car ride home.
Take, for example, last year's vastly superior film Trance. That film similarly suffered a suffocating death by a thousand cuts, but it was perhaps so preposterous that it ultimately ended up working when it really shouldn't have. This film is so dead serious that its equally ludicrous twist ends up feeling as if it walked in from another film altogether. This is a dour film with a tone that's downright funereal, and unravels its final moments with all the charm of a belligerent drunk demanding to know if you "got" what he was just saying. If you're going to force an audience to accept something so utterly ridiculous as to be laughable, it helps if you set a tone that compliments your demands.
Before I Go To Sleep isn't a bad film. It's competently made and well-acted by its trio of stars, though anyone hoping for a twist reprisal of Mark Strong & Colin Firth's love affair from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will be sorely disappointed. It's basically like an old pair of sweatpants, reliably comfortable, but sorely lacking the image of authority it so desperately wants to project. It's nothing you haven't seen before, and anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the typical amnesiac thriller will constantly be three steps ahead of it. Now, none of this is to say that no filmmaker or writer should ever attempt this line of plotting ever again, it's simply a plea for those filmmakers and storytellers to reinvent the genre. It's been done before, and lord knows it can be done again, it's just probably worth waiting until it can be done properly. Otherwise, what's the point?
*As a plea to anyone desiring to go see the film, I must caution you to avoid the film's imdb page, as it contains a major league spoiler right in the cast listing.
GO Rating: 2/5
[Photos via Box Office Mojo]