Superficially, it’s easy to look at “Before I Go To Sleep” as a gritty and dark reimagining of “50 First Dates” with Nicole Kidman taking over from Drew Barrymore and Colin Firth in the Adam Sandler role. Which would make Mark Strong, um, Rob Schneider I guess? But where the 2004 Rom Com went for sunny romance and screwball antics, this taut psychological thriller explores a much more sinister take on anterograde amnesia.
When Christine (Nicole Kidman in full wide-and-darting-eyed mode) awakes in a strange bed next to an unfamiliar man (Colin Firth), she learns that she is suffering from memory loss as the results of an accident several years previously and despite the fact her last memories are of her early twenties, she is over 40 years old and the stranger in bed beside her is her husband Ben. Every night, her memory resets and she forgets everything, having to repeat the same process of shock and discovery day after day. However, working with her psychologist Dr Nash (Mark Strong), Christine has been keeping a video diary and as it starts to help her retain a semblance of a normal life, she begins to suspect that neither man can be trusted.
Director Rowan Joffé shoots the film with a dreamy, ambient feel echoing Christine’s sense of detachment and disorientation while the cinematography is starkly bleak, a combination of sodium-drenched ambers and washed-out blues echoing the aesthetic of those oh-so-trendy Scandinavian TV thrillers. Kidman, Firth and Strong deliver skilful performances, each leaving just enough ambiguity that you’ll vacillate over who might be keeping secrets from whom as the inconsistencies and clues gather like autumn leaves. While you may see the twist coming, the reveal is such a shocking moment that it gives the whole film a shot of adrenalin and jolts you upright in your seat just as you might be considering going to sleep yourself.
It may not reward repeated viewings as much as other thrillers of its ilk, but it’s a satisfying take on the amnesiac premise and it’s trim running time of 92 minutes means it gets across the finish line long before the necessary plot contrivances start to undermine your enjoyment.