By Eleanor Ringel Cater
The last time we saw a movie about an amnesiac who needed to be reminded every morning who she was and what was what, Adam Sandler was courting Drew Barrymore in “50 First Dates.”
“Before I Go to Sleep” turns that concept on its head. And casts it in a much darker hue.
This suspense thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth is an efficiently unpleasant little exercise in paranoia and manipulation and spousal abuse — though not necessarily in that order or importance.
Kidman plays Christine, a beautiful amnesiac who wakes up every day with a clear mind. Well, maybe “clear” is too charitable. “Blank“ may be more accurate.
She wakes up with no idea of who she is, who the man (Firth) in bed next to her is, or, for that matter, anything.
Luckily, the man is a caretaker par excellence. The bathroom wall is plastered with photos and helpful post-it notes: this is our wedding…, this is our vacation…, this is where we keep the laundry detergent (well, it’s not quite that detailed).
Anyway, Christine is — shakily — able to comprehend and accept her present circumstances. But there are some disturbing incidents. Like, the doctor (Mark Strong) who insists on treating her memory loss without Firth knowing. Or this supposed best friend who somehow isn’t easily located. Or even Firth himself who handles the caretaker role admirably, but readily admits even he has his breaking point (No, honey, forks go on the left…)
“Before I Go to Sleep” is expressly designed to make you a nervous wreck. Who should Christine trust? What do these people want from her? And, really, where is the laundry detergent?
Frankly, the film does all this awfully well. But working against it is an enough-already-we-get-it finale, plus a sense that we haven’t been pulled into Kidman’s plight as much as we could be. Though she’s perfectly fine, Firth’s multi-layered performance can’t help but steal focus.
The question is, how much of this semi-sadistic, semi-clever puzzle will engage you? “Before I Go To Sleep” is certainly well done. But then, so is “”Iron Man 3.” Depends, I guess, on what you’re in the mood for.
Ah, to sleep…perhaps to scream…