Monday 15 September 2014

Before I Go To Sleep

Sleeping Pill

Before I Go To Sleep
2014  USA/UK/France/Sweden
Directed by Rowan Joffe
UK cinema release print.

I’ve got two minor observations about this movie, based on a best selling novel by S. J. Watson, that you might find worthy of me mentioning here.

Number one is that I’ve seen the overly long trailer for this film so many times now at the front of other movies at my local cinema... so you would think that, after suffering it so often, I should be able to at least remember the title of this movie, right? However, every time someone asked me what movie I was going to see, I had to describe the main premise, “Nicole Kidman can’t go to sleep without losing her memory”, because the title is just not interesting enough to stick in my mind.

Every time.

My friend and I even had to order our tickets at the box office when we got there with a description of the movie because, in the few seconds between spotting the poster outside the cinema and walking in to buy the ticket... we’d forgotten the name of the movie again. And, even now, as I sat down to write this review, I had to look at the IMDB page for Nicole Kidman to find out the title of the movie I was writing about. So I think my main conclusion here is... the title may (or may not) have been right for the novel but as a movie title it’s so unbelievably generic that it just doesn’t stick in the mind, to be honest. It could have done with being called something a little more poetic or imaginative, I think, as a film you aspire to go to see at the cinema.

My other point is that, when I told a few different people the basic premise, because I couldn’t remember the title, they all responded passionately with the same message... “not that old plot again?”. And then trotted out a few movie titles which have used similar plots. Of course, I tried to defend my choice by saying that there would be some kind of extra spin on this concept somewhere down the line because, after all, it was based on a best seller so there must be something more to it than what appears on the surface. Imagine my disappointment after having seen the movie, then, and realising that... no, they were right. It is the same old plot we have seen so many times.

However, this doesn’t make it a bad film and I’m pleased to report that for a lot of the time I was kept mildly curious and interested, waiting for some kind of unguessable twist to arrive in the narrative. It’s hard to not be able to take some pleasure in a film which, for example, stars three very strong actors - Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong - who you know are going to deliver a compelling performance. Which they obviously do and, coupled with a very slow and almost voyeuristic shooting style for most of the movie, it does have a certain fascination as you watch the drama slowly unfold... up until a point.

Now I’m really going to try to keep this spoiler free but the basic plot concept is that somebody has bashed up Nicole Kidman to the point that she has a very special kind of amnesia that wipes the last 20 or so years of her memory out after she goes to sleep at night. She has to catch up each day making use of a secret diary she is currently filming on a camera. Why is it a secret diary? Well, because the story works as one of those “trust no one” kind of tales of paranoia where either of the two male protagonists in her life, her husband Ben or her psychiatrist Dr. Nash, may not be what they seem. She has to slowly try to solve the mystery of why she is in this state and who she can and can’t trust. Which is fine up until a point.

That point, for me, was about the last 20 minutes of the movie which are less than clumsily handled. I wish Nicole had spent more time trying to unravel the absolutely ludicrous plot holes in the film version of this story, which render the entire scenario unworkable as a real life occurrence... but don’t even get me started on tearing down some of the anti-logic in this one.

Now, all the way through the director has been using everyday objects and vehicles (cars and planes etc) to rush out from nowhere to give the audience a jump scare and I found this cheap and unnecessary for the kind of drama that was playing out. My friend observed that the director needed to feel he had to keep doing that because nothing much happens in the film. I think I’ll be a little more charitable than that and say that stuff does kind of happen from time to time... but you certainly don’t need these jump scares, which add nothing to this particular narrative, inserted at random intervals throughout the film.

I was mostly able to let this fly because of the voyeuristic way in which the drama was unfolding. I don’t know if many people will notice this but the camera is with Nicole Kidman’s character Christine for almost the entire movie, choosing to tell things about the events from how she perceives them... and this is great. However, in the last 20 minutes or so of the movie, when one of the characters is indeed found to be not who they say they were (and I’m not telling you which one, or even if it is just one of them, and this isn’t a spoiler because the movie works by making you suspect either or both of them), the camera then suddenly darts off with that person for a scene or two and we are no longer seeing events purely depicted from Christine’s viewpoint. Now, I don’t know if the decision to do that at this point was coincidental with when I stopped enjoying the movie or not... but I do know that there’s an intense fight scene which seemed a bit over the top, in some ways, to everything that had gone before and, when I saw an iron appear in shot during the fight... that’s when I started giggling at a point the director would probably have considered inappropriate.

This, coupled with a post-denouement sequence which is full of sentiment and utilising two characters we haven’t even met before in the film (although we have heard about them often) seems just really wrong for the tone of this one... at least to me. Now it may have been following the ending from the book, I don’t know because I haven’t read it, but due to the brilliant way the director had been setting up the shots of Nicole Kidman’s character waking up to each new day, I’m pretty sure there was a much better way to end this movie in a more cinematic fashion, possibly involving one of the other characters we’ve gotten to know through the course of the film. Alas, it was not to be and I can’t tell you what my ending to this one would have been because I don’t want any spoilers in this particular review... but it would have certainly have started with an arm moving off a bed sheet and a post diary watch reveal as the last shot.

So is the movie any good?

Well, for me it’s not something I could watch again. It’s the kind of cinema which places great stock in story content and, as far as I’m concerned, it lives and breathes until the revelation of its secrets... and I’m sure I’ve seen all this done before on TV and film anyway. However, if you’re fairly young, and your experience of movies is not so large, then you may well really like this film. After all, it still kept me fascinated and watching with a certain curiosity throughout the majority of its running time. Not one I’d recommend but certainly some people will clearly get something out of this one, I feel. Coupled with the fact that one of the more striking, Herrmannesque pieces of music used in the trailer is not from the actual film, it turns out, means I had a more disappointing time with this one than I was hoping for... but the lead actors are all very strong in this and if you are a big fan of any of them then you’ll probably love their performances here. Not much else to say on this one other than... I still have about as much success at remembering the title of this one as the central character does of remembering what she had for breakfast the day before. I might need to write it down somewhere.

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