Movie a Day Blog has great admiration for Nicole Kidman. She is one of the few actresses to take real chances in the roles she chooses, in both independent and mainstream films.
I think she’s the most underrated screen performer of her generation — by contrast, just look at Gwyneth Paltrow. Can you imagine her doing DOGVILLE (2003), RABBIT HOLE (2010) or THE PAPERBOY (2012).
Kidman continues her good character choices with BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (2014, Theatrical), an interesting thriller that borrows elements from several more successful films, including GASLIGHT (1944), WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967) and even Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980).
Like Kubrick, director Rowan Joffe (son of the director Roland Joffe and the actress Jane Lapotaire) prefers a restless camera, in almost constant motion until the final emotional scene of the film, when it becomes perfectly still.
The premise is an amalgam of the classic “don’t trust the people who tell you you’re crazy” plot, joined with the current fascination with the repetitive nature of life. As in films as diverse as EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014) and GROUNDHOG DAY (1993), some poor soul gets stuck in an endless loop of repeating the same experience over and over again.
In BEFORE I GO, Kidman plays a confused woman who awakens each morning with absolute no recent memory, and by recent, Joffe means more than a decade’s worth. She doesn’t know her husband (Colin Firth), if she has or had a family, what she does for a living (surprisingly, it turns out to be nothing), whether her psychiatrist (Mark Strong) is who he says he is, and why she is in this predicament. To say any more would be to act like a poor sport spoiler.
The gimmick comes in the form of a video camera in which each successive day in Kidman’s life includes a video diary in which she confides her suppositions and her fears, mostly the latter. She exists in a state of constant paranoia, unsure of whom to believe or trust, since there appears to be one or more other men in her previous life. It’s a bit confusing to understand just what that life was — we get no sense of who Kidman’s character was in her early 20s when this disaster apparently befell her, only her current 40-year-old persona who is consumed by fear and doubt.
For most actresses this would elicit a one-note performance, since there isn’t the comedy that Bill Murray could retreat to in GROUNDHOG DAY, or the high-stakes war that Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt had to navigate in EDGE OF TOMORROW.
Kidman has only her face and her eyes with which to communicate bewilderment, rage, suspicion, desperation and moments of memory clarity. It’s a bravura performance, the one element of BEFORE I GO that keeps the audience constantly engaged, as the plot becomes more and more convoluted. There’s a major red herring that makes little sense in retrospect, and that makes you question the reliability of anything Kidman is communicating to us as reality.
Sometimes a film can overplay a clever gimmick, and BEFORE I GO comes dangerously close to that edge, but I found it consistently entertaining, if increasingly far-fetched.
Joffe seems to have a strong visual style distinct from his father’s (who had one of the strangest critical burnouts in directorial history, going from a masterpiece such as THE KILLING FIELDS (1984) to the torture porn of CAPTIVITY (2007)), and he keeps the tension at a consistent high burn through most of BEFORE I GO.
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP ends on a sentimental note designed to induce tears, but by this time, they seem generally earned, particularly by a character who we aren’t even sure exists. Okay, I’ll shut up now before I give away any more of the plot; some films shouldn’t have their innards exposed.