Film Review – Before I Go To Sleep
So last week I waxed lyrical about the gripping, bestselling thriller Before I Go Sleep by S.J. Watson. I talk about what a fantastic book it is in my review here, and I read it quickly so I could see the film adaptation that was released this weekend, starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong.
Christine Lucas (Kidman) awakes every morning with no memory. After a serious attack, Christine’s amnesia is so bad she loses the events of her day when she goes to sleep. After finding her diary, she starts to piece together the recent weeks she has lost and begins to fear that she is not safe with her husband, Ben (Firth).
I must say, this is very artistically filmed. Think oppressive grey skies broken with bare branches of wintery trees; panning across row after row of naked shop mannequins, as unprotected from the world as Christine; windswept piers and stretching corridors that give a trippy glimpse into the frustrated mind of a woman desperate to get well again. There are no wasted frames in this film. The music carries a lot of tension and the acting is perfect. As a film on it’s own it is quite accomplished. As an adaptation from a novel, it did feel a bit thin and constrained.
The great part of this film is Nicole Kidman. She gives a truly exceptional performance and blends into the character of Christine so perfectly that you are invested in her story, and you feel the same disconnected and unsettled emotions as her. Colin Firth is Ben, the long-suffering and devoted husband who may or may not be someone Christine can trust… He is perfect in his role as a dependable but slightly shady older dude. I do feel a little bad, but he’s Mr Darcy, and it’s quite unsettling to see him in an untrustworthy and completely unromantic role!
Christine is also supported by the doctor she is unable to recognise each day, Ed Nash (although in the film they change his name!!!) played by Mark Strong, who has a voice like quicksilver, and portrays Dr Nash in a way that is creepy enough without cheap camera tricks trying to make him even more so!
In the film, the journal Christine keeps is changed to a Vlog on a camera which she stashes in the back of the wardrobe every day. It helps with keeping the visual of the film racing along, however I do have to question how much of her day and thoughts can be conveyed within 30 second sound bites. With the help of Dr Nash, Christine tries to piece together her missing life and solve the mystery surrounding her accident and the identities of those around her.
Is this film a thriller… well, no. It’s more like a very quick drama film with a lot of yelling and about five ‘Nicole Kidman almost getting hit by a car’ moments just to make the audience jump whenever the drama is lagging. The thing about the novel Before I Go To Sleep is that there are a few pivotal moments that are surrounded by the connecting tissue of Christine’s daily life. Unfortunately when the tissue is cut away to save on time in the film version, the resulting story comes across as hollow in some places. I don’t mean that the film should be 17 hours long, but I thought a little more screen time could be given, especially as this rounded to a mere 92-minute film.
The shorter time frame meant important clues in the book weren’t given enough screentime. For example, there’s a letter in the book and the handwriting holds significant importance; but you don’t understand the significance of the writing in the film, since a close up of the letter is never given. I felt that this made the film’s ending seem more random, whereas the book carefully constructed its way to the twist moment.
And of course with Colin Firth being just …. well, so Colin Firth, that even him trying to be menacing and evil left me thinking only of this (far superior) fight scene:
The trailer makes it look terrifying, but it’s actually a pretty tame drama (no Gone Girl throat slashing for this film). I think it will be a more enjoyable film if you haven’t read the book, either at all or recently, as it takes some serious liberties in the plot. However, the ending has the same emotional resonance and redemptive arc as the book, and it gets an A+ for superb acting and spine-chilling cinematography.