Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 28, 2015)
When we last saw Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth together, they starred in 2014’s The Railway Man, a historical drama that made almost no money during its theatrical exhibition. Now they’re back with 2014’s Before I Go to Sleep, a thriller… that made almost no money during its theatrical exhibition.
Apparently Kidman and Firth with try again via 2015’s Genius, so perhaps the third time will be the box office charm. Until then, I figured I’d give Sleep a look.
When Christine Lucas (Kidman) wakes up everyday, she can’t remember anything about her life past her early twenties. This means that her husband Ben (Firth) needs to give her reminders and tell her that a brain injury caused this curious form of amnesia.
As soon as Ben leaves for the day, Christine gets a call from Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) and he claims to work with her to “fix” her memory issues. Apparently Ben doesn’t know about this, and some flashbacks give us clues about the doctor/patient relationship as well as her history. These contradict what Ben told to Christine, and the movie follows her attempts to piece together the reality.
If one wanted to call Sleep a dark version of 2004’s 50 First Dates, one would stand on safe ground. Clearly the two movies share intense similarities in terms of their female leads, as both revolve around women who lose their memories after awaken.
Sleep doesn’t stop with Dates as an influence, though, as it takes from other sources. 2000’s Memento becomes another obvious inspiration, and Sleep tosses in a whole lot of Hitchcock as well.
Because of this, Sleep can’t muster much in the way of original material. Most of the time it feels like an amalgamation of those influences, and it never manages to turn into its own unique experience.
It doesn’t help that the narrative seems lacking. Sleep comes across more like a collection of scenes and plot twists than a coherent tale in its own right. Some of that makes sense; we experience the world through Christine’s eyes, so the tale shouldn’t feel too smooth and cohesive. Still, it seems like the movie uses revelations as an entity unto themselves so much that it loses relevance.
At least the actors do well. In particular, Kidman grounds the film with a solid lead turn. She manages to convey Christine’s many moods and attitudes in a logical, believable manner. Firth adds mystery to his character as well; along with Christine, we need to figure out if Ben is who he claims to be, and Firth brings out appropriate sentiments.
Sleep manages to remain reasonably interesting much of the time, but it just can’t overcome its intensely derivative nature. The story turns and good performances keep us with it but the movie never rises above the level of decent pulp thriller.