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Before I Go To Sleep starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong: My take on the movie

There's a scene in Before I Go To Sleep where Nicole Kidman surveys her face in the mirror, her fingers lightly running over the fine lines around her eyes. The idea is that she's surprised by her own aging face. As Christine Lucas, the victim of an accident that causes her brain to erase all her memories each night, she wakes up every morning believing she is still in her early twenties. When her husband Ben (Colin Firth) tells her she is actually forty, Christine can't quite believe it.

Neither can we. Although if you asked me to look at Kidman and guess her age, I'd be hard-pressed to put a number on it, if you've seen Kidman's face lately, you know the problem with this scene. Kidman, glorious actor though she is, while actually being closer to fifty than forty — she's actually forty-seven — has no such fine lines, no laugh lines, no expression lines, whatever you choose to call them, to speak of. That's a tad disconcerting considering the fourteen years that are supposed to have passed since the 'accident.' And normally, I'd love to erase age and lines from the discussion except that this is all about the passage of time so it's difficult not to note it. 

That being said, I decided to buy into the premise of the film based on SJ Watson's book. I gave you my take on the thriller back in July and I've been waiting to see what writer/ director Rowan Joffe would do with the material in this adaptation. In addition to Nicole Kidman as Christine, Colin Firth plays her husband Ben and Mark Strong is the neurologist Dr. Nash character. Make no mistake, this is a trio of strong, amazing actors who all turn in strong performances. I saw the film along with about a dozen other folks on its third day in release. While I've been trying to avoid reviews, I couldn't avoid the lack of buzz, so I went in with fairly low expectations. Maybe that's the right way to see the film, because while I can't rave wildly about it — like I could about Fury, were I not constrained in this blog to my movies based on books theme — I quite enjoyed it. Come to think of it, not all that different to my response to the book.

On the negative side of things was Nicole's oddly un-aging face — at some point we are all going to have to deal with Botox tweaks that leave faces looking line-less but not exactly forever young either — and a tendency from director Rowan Joffe to focus on that face far too much. So many of Kidman's reactions are seen in full close-up mode, the camera spotlighting her wide-eyed disbelief, her terror, her teary-eyed response. The histrionics, which in spite of the lack of movement said Botox tweaking causes in the face, Nicole Kidman does really well. Still, for my money Joffe overplayed Christine's responses; for starters I could have used a little less crying.

Which brings me to the plus side. While Joffe has Kidman in full dramatic acting mode, both Colin Firth and Mark Strong (when, when, when will someone cast Mark Strong as a romantic lead?) are their calm, understated, thriller-worthy selves. Think their characters in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (You can read my take on that movie if you like) Even though I read SJ Watson's book and knew the outcome, I was still constantly on edge in terms of who to trust. You can chalk part of that up to my aging and forgetful brain but still I found myself quite unsettled, shocked and duly terrified exactly when and where Joffe wanted me to be. 

The director of 28 Weeks Later — the sequel to the acclaimed horror film — uses the horror director's toolbox to build tension with tricks such as quick camera cuts, fast flash backs and sudden movements to leave us unsettled. Example: Christine is about to cross a road when a truck speeds by, blurring the frame, causing a startled reaction from the audience, a momentary scare that has absolutely nothing to do with the storyline. He also walks us through a factory of eery looking mannequins - again, small distractions that had nothing to do with the material - but it puts us in an wary state of mind. I much preferred the tension created by Strong as Dr. Nash with his beautifully modulated voice making his daily phone call to advise Christine where to find the camera so she can record her video diary — a smart deviation from the written diary Christine uses in the book — and Christine's growing fear that she'll be caught and the camera discovered.

Are there holes? Yes, but on the whole Before I Go to Sleep was a good time at the theatre. While the movie didn't leave me thinking (really, the one thing I really came away with was when will Mark Strong get the movie love he deserves? HE really is unforgettable) the third act had me on the edge of my seat, cringing and grabbing at my chair, biting my nails and rooting for Christine, which is pretty much the cliched response a thriller looks for. 

Yes, the movie is a 'flop' at the box office but if you're looking for some grownup thrills, I think you'll find Before I Go to Sleep fits the bill.

Here's the trailer