Before I Go To Sleep **1/2 (out of five)
Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth can do it now: they are masters of the art of screen acting. Both started off a little shakily, she a little too camera-aware (or vain, in blunter terms), he a little stiff. But those days are long past and they can both take a role and bring about as much sincerity and integrity to it as it can possibly support. They’re both especially good at drama and thrillers – and dramatic, or “adult”, thrillers.
Such a shame, then, that their completely professional and deserving work in plotboiler Before I Go To Sleep is undermined so savagely by the abysmal score, which, I reckon conservatively, underscores 90% of the running time. The heavy strings telling us – smashing us over the head with telling us – that something is up, or there is a clue being revealed, or someone is behaving oddly, are then shown up in decrepitude by the heavy strings telling us this bit is sad. Films rarely underscore all the way through – the Star Wars and James Bond franchises come close, and they’re a good example of the practice – and when they do it often signals a last-minute fear in the edit suite that the footage isn’t working hard enough to make us feel what it is the filmmakers want us to feel – which, in a dramatic thriller like this, is generally tension and suspense.
The thing about criticising a score, of course, is that it’s not necessarily the composer’s work you’re taking issue with: it’s the vast overuse of it. And then, it’s not always possible to mark that against the director: very few directors have final cut, and final cut includes final cut of the soundtrack. It could be a producer thing. So there’s nowhere to lay the blame. It has just happened, here, and it’s ruinous.
Score – and its overuse – aside, let’s look at the rest. The performances, as stated above and also from Mark Strong, are solid – very solid – and the underlying material, from a successful novel, is the kind of stuff beloved of Hitchcock and countless others, timeless, grounded stuff. It’s Memento meets Gaslight, which shows you how deeply its roots lie: films like this have been made since the dawn of movies. Kidman is in every scene; her character has to figure out something involving the two men; there are dark navigations of the mind to be made. There is no gore, no real violence; it’s a thriller your grandmama can love.
I love that Kidman, who is worth a billion dollars thanks to her career and also to one particular divorce, now makes movies based solely on the material. But she needs to get more involved in the edit suite. Before I Go To Sleep has all the right ingredients but it is not enjoyable: Tonally one-note – especially thanks to that score – it squanders its riches, which, when they’re Kidman and Firth, is a crime.