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Film Review: Before I Go To Sleep

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Before I Go To Sleep


Though they are very different in their own right, this autumn sees the big screen adaptation of two stand-alone adult crime thriller novels that were international bestsellers when they were published a few years ago: Before I Go To Sleep and Gone Girl. We’ll have to wait until October for David Fincher’s big screen version of the latter, but to start the season off we have Before I Go To Sleep, adapted from the hit novel by S.J. Watson.

Watson’s novel is a masterpiece in structure and suspense; it succeeds in bringing the reader in and enveloping them in a complicated and fiendishly clever thriller narrative that concerns the attack of a woman who, as a result, suffers a catastrophic memory loss. Each day that she wakes up she has forgotten what has occurred the day before. Even though she is in her 40s, she believes she is in her early 20s and has no memories of her traumatic ordeal or her marriage to the man she seems to be living with. Her only way of making sense of her world is by keeping a diary; a suggestion from a doctor who has been treating her in secret from her husband.

From the outside, this looks like an adaptation primed for greatness. We have Nicole Kidman as the protagonist, Christine, Colin Firth as Ben, the man she lives with, and Mark Strong as Dr Nash. But even though all the cast perform their roles well-enough, it doesn’t stop this film from being a big disappointment. Those who know and love Watson’s superb novel will probably be frustrated with the unimaginative, boringly conventional way the story has been brought to the screen. Those new to the plot will probably find it ludicrous, far-fetched and more than a little silly. And, it pains me to say it, I would have to agree with them.

Kidman is fine in her role, though this is far from a career-topping turn. The real star is actually Colin Firth, who contributes a beautifully handheld and multilayered performance that belongs in a better and more interesting film. Mark Strong doesn’t quite fit in his role as Dr Nash, and it’s annoying his character has been aged by a good 15 years in order to engineer a particularly predictable red-herring.

By streamlining the story into a simple nuts-and-bolts thriller, writer and director Rowan Joffe has worn away at the foundations that kept the novel stable. Unfortunately I can’t be too specific on this point or I will spoil things for prospective viewers, but where the novel made very sure the narrative could hold water right until the end, the film leaves some gaping plot-holes that will leave even less demanding viewers feeling a tad insulted.

Another irritating aspect is the relentless music score from Edward Shearmur which makes it impossible for the viewer to think for themselves. Each big reveal is accompanied by some screeching strings or discordant clangs. Clichéd doesn’t even cover it.

This is the type of thing you’d expect to find on ITV, split over two nights and sponsored by Viking River Cruises. The only thing that sets it aside from such fare is the cinematography by Ben Davis, who offers us some mesmerising grey-blue toned widescreen images with a pleasing celluloid grain-structure (something rarely seen in this digital age). This film is solidly put-together, adequate as an entertaining time-waster, but nothing special. And a killer-plot like this needs something special.

Before I Go to Sleep (2014), directed by Rowan Joffe, is released in cinemas in the UK on September 5 by StudioCanal, Certificate 15.


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