Review by Louise Keller:
With its top-drawer cast, there's a compelling aspect to this psychological thriller in which reality, truth and reason struggle against the dark subtext of the unknown, but the heavy-handed cloak and dagger elements push it over into the realm of the incredulous. To begin with, the adaptation of S.J. Watson's novel - about a woman whose amnesiac condition makes her forget everything she remembers during the day as she goes to sleep at night - is problematic. It might have worked better in a different director's hands, but Brighton Rock director Rowan Joffe's adaptation and handling lack the finesse required to pull it off. Although Nicole Kidman appears in every scene in what is a clearly demanding role, surprisingly, it is Colin Firth who shines brightest, delivering a stunning portrait of a man devastated by love and grief.
Uncertainty and fear are the emotions expressed in Kidman's blue eyes in the opening scene, as her amnesiac Christine wakes to find an unknown man's arm around her in bed. I am Ben, your husband, says Colin Firth with reassurance and tired resignation, reaffirming the information Christine has already found on the photo-covered wall. By way of a phone call, we are introduced to Mark Strong's neuropsychologist Dr Nash, whose prompting Christine to use a camera as a visual diary, starts a sequence of events that not only begin to trigger memory fragments, but also raises questions about why their conversations and meetings should remain secret. A man with a scar, a girl with red hair, a hotel room, blood and violence....what is the truth behind Christine's accident and the memories that have been solidly blocked from her conscious mind?
The interest lies in the relationships that Christine develops with both Ben and Dr Nash. The fact that her emotions waver dramatically as they are captured in her visual diary adds to the tension. Who can she trust? Who is lying? Is everything as it appears? Is she imagining things? Turgid music accompanies most of the proceedings. This bothered me throughout. There are some genuinely scary moments in the third act as the action tightens a notch and Christine's isolation is accentuated. Joffe uses filmmakers' customary tools of darkness, noises and creepy music to make the hairs on the back of our necks stand up.
Kidman holds our attention throughout, although the inconsistent clip of her English accent detracts somewhat from what is otherwise a vulnerable characterisation. Strong has good gravitas as the calm, enigmatic Dr Nash and the image of Firth as the tortured soul haunts. He looks as though he is living in his own tortured hell. Both men bring complexity and doubt as a potent ingredient. The final scene offers Kidman a chance to shine but the resolution is not enough, leaving us feeling cheated in what feels like a sleight of hand.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Amnesia is a wonderful, universal and powerful dramatic tool for both writers and filmmakers, playing with our central nervous system about fading or failing memory. In whatever context, loss of memory is akin to loss of self. But it's a tricky subject all the same, especially in cinema, where the concreteness of images and the memories of recent scenes acts against the central premise.
That may be why Before I Go To Sleep feels rather manipulative as it tries to assert its premise. To do so, it has to employ some cinematic sleight of hand which is forgivable. But Joffe oversteps the mark when he deliberately misleads us regarding the (for much of the film) mysterious character who we expect to be the source of wickedness. A scar on the face is all it takes, glanced fleetingly in those 'memory recall' collages that editors love to assemble when called on to signal action in the mind/memory/dream/fantasy....
This is just about the only negative in an otherwise taut and terrific thriller with a vulnerable female (Nicole Kidman) at the centre, and a tragic story of brain damage that annuls her husband and son.
Kidman is at her expressive best, a butterfly on the wing, trembling and barely afloat. Mark Strong has a satisfying role as the shrink with good intentions and Colin Firth is as flinty and unflinching as ever, yet a vehicle for inner turmoil, his stock in trade.
The 'just about' other negative is the vanilla sense of place; yes we sense it's England, but only because they speak English. The airport where some key scenes take place is unidentified, and far from making this a 'universal' setting, it simply makes it an un-place, with no character, atmosphere or ambiance of its own.
All the same, it's a good 'watch'.