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With: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff
Written by: Rowan Joffe, based on a novel by S.J. Watson
Directed by: Rowan Joffe
MPAA Rating: R for some brutal violence and language
Running Time: 92
Date: 10/31/2014

Before I Go to Sleep (2014)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Don't You Forget About Me

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening today in Bay Area theaters, Before I Go to Sleep is the kind of thriller that used to be shown on late-night cable, or rented on VHS videocassettes.

It doesn't try to be edgy or new, and it's content to be lazy sometimes and lets a few things slide here and there. If you don't demand too much from it, it has a few pleasant surprises in store.

Nicole Kidman stars as Christine, a 40 year-old woman with amnesia. She's able to store up memories during the day, but when she sleeps, everything is erased, going back to her twenties.

Each morning she wakes up next to a strange man (Colin Firth), who introduces himself as Ben, her husband. He explains who she is as well as a few important details (she's allergic to cashew nuts). He shows her photos of their life together. He tells her he loves her.

After Ben leaves for work, she receives a phone call from another strange man, Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong). He tells her to find the video camera she has hidden in her closet and watch what's recorded on it. It's her video diary, her own way of keeping memories.

After the viewing, Dr. Nasch meets Christine each day for various tests and interviews.

That's a strong setup, and then writer/director Rowan Joffe -- who adapted S.J. Watson's novel -- opts to leave a series of clues and/or red herrings, pointing to things that are terribly wrong in this situation, but avoiding big questions.

Some of these are effective, and others just seem to be place markers. What Joffe doesn't really do is exploit the amnesia theme. If Christine fails to record crucial, life-saving information for herself, it will be gone the next day; this could have made for terrific suspense.

Christine is a fairly passive character, a victim, relying on others to help her. Thankfully, Kidman is still one of our great movie stars, and she brings an appealing vulnerability to her role. Our hearts go out to her.

On the other hand, the various supporting characters seem to have been cast more for their external effects rather than for their emotional centers.

Joffe is the son of Oscar-nominated director Roland, who made The Killing Fields and The Mission, but who later degenerated into bad thrillers like Goodbye Lover and Captivity.

The younger Joffe appears to have landed closer to the lowbrow thrillers than to the high-minded dramas, but at least Before I Go to Sleep is intermittently satisfying. It's just not easy to remember in the morning.

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