Amnesiacs make terrific protagonists for psychological thrillers: You can tell them any old thing and they’ll buy it, and their vulnerability makes them deeply sympathetic. In Rowan Joffe’s tidily constructed potboiler Before I Go to Sleep, Nicole Kidman plays a woman who, after a traumatic incident, wakes up every morning unable to remember who she is.
Patient husband Colin Firth gazes at her with lovesick concern, telling her, “I’m your husband, Ben.” But every day, after he leaves for work, her phone rings: It’s sultry shrink Mark Strong, who’s been treating her on the sly. At least one of these stone-cold foxes is trying to manipulate her. But which one? They’re both so damn…sexy.
This is Joffe’s second film as a director — the first was the chilly little 2010 Graham Greene adaptation Brighton Rock — and he knows what he’s doing: If the story is a smidge predictable, at least the movie is pleasingly old-fashioned and grown-up, with a ’90s paranoid-thriller vibe.
Kidman, looking as fragile as one of those paper flowers that blooms in a glass of water, earns our compassion from the start. Stuck in her endless morning-to-night memory loop, her character, who’s 40, believes she’s still in her twenties. “The truth is, half of your life is over,” she reminds herself daily as part of her therapy.
No one, not even an amnesiac, wants to own up to that, and Kidman, whose forehead — at last! — shows just the tiniest bit of age-appropriate wrinkling, represents valor in the face of harsh reality.