Best summarised as a watered down Memento (2000) aimed firmly at the Richard and Judy’s Book Club crowd and based on the hugely successful novel of the same name by S.J. Watson, Rowan Joffe’s Before I Go to Sleep (2014) is the sort of weightless literary adaptation that simultaneously irks fans of the source text and baffles those who have chosen to take the film-first route. Starring a scatterbrained Nicole Kidman and a woefully miscast Colin Firth as her doting hubby, with workmanlike yet sadly unremarkable support from Anne-Marie Duff and Mark Strong, the only thing Joffe’s Before I Go to Sleep has going in its favour is that it’s too brief to really lull you into slumber – despite its best efforts.
A committed Kidman plays main protagonist Christine, the survivor of a brutal attack several years ago which has left her plagued by severe short-term memory loss. Beaten unconscious and left for dead by an unknown assailant on the outskirts of an unspecified airport, Christine awakes each morning with no recollection of anything after that fateful night – including the fact that she’s married to the kindly Ben (Firth). Understandably rocked by her precarious state of mind on a daily basis, Christine gets by thanks to regular over-the-phone advice from the benevolent Dr. Nash (Strong) and a video diary that is slowly helping her to piece together the fragments of her shattered life. However, Ben’s increasingly erratic behaviour and Nash’s experimental therapies soon lead Christine to a shocking revelation.
The second directorial offering from Joffe, following 2010’s passable but almost entirely unnecessary Brighton Rock remake, Before I Go to Sleep is nothing if not a huge backwards step for the greenhorn British director. Lumbered with the job of adapting a readily disposable summer read (if one with an admittedly large fanbase), Joffe applies the bare minimum of verve and panache required to lift Watson’s hackneyed story of amnesia off the page, only throwing in the odd hallucinatory effect when his film is at its most in need of a personality injection. There’s a tangible feeling of lethargy to the entire project, from the clunk of narrative cogs as Kidman’s Christine unravels the thin web of lies that envelops her to Firth’s unintentionally amusing shifts between fawning puppy dog and potential threat (cue shots of Firth’s Ben chopping vegetables as ominously as physically possible), all carried off with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
In support, Duff and Strong do their best with the almost entirely thankless roles they’re given, though in truth the function of the former – as best friend/love rival Claire – is little beyond that of a glorified plot device and the latter’s softly-spoken medical practitioner would be struck of in an instant for some of his more ‘alternative’ therapeutic methods (ad hoc sedatives, anyone)? On the whole, die-hard fans of Watson’s frothy source novel may miraculously manage to eke a slither of enjoyment from Joffe’s labouring ‘psychological thriller’ – to use the term extremely loosely – but for everyone else Before I Go to Sleep is another uninspired translation of a book that probably didn’t warrant one in the first place. David Fincher’s take on Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2014), arriving on UK screens in a few weeks time following its grand New York Film Festival world premiere, looks a far meatier proposition.