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Before I Go to Sleep: Shallow Thriller Fails to Capitalise on Novel Premise
Rowan Joffe's latest psychological thriller – based on S.J Watson's nail-biting 2011 page-turner – is, sadly, anything but thrilling. Poorly-constructed and emotionally shallow, Before I Go to Sleep starts off with an absorbing premise, but fails sustain the intrigue needed to do its source material justice.
Having suffered a terrible car accident ten years ago, Christine Lucas (Kidman) wakes up every morning not knowing who or where she is. As a result of a severe head injury, the forty year-old suffers from a form of post-traumatic amnesia, which erases her most recent memories every night she goes to sleep.
Unable to recognise her own husband, Ben (Firth), she wakes up every morning in fear while her long-suffering partner sits on the edge of the bed patiently explaining – through a collage of pictures taped to the bathroom wall – who he is and who they are to one another.
Psychiatrist, Dr. Nash (Strong), calls her every morning, encouraging her to keep a video-diary. Convincing her to join an experimental treatment designed to jog her memory, Christine's understanding of her life is put into doubt when she begins to unravel the real truth about her past and the fact that not everyone in her life is who they say they are.
Set somewhere in the UK – the exact location of which is never specified or visually depicted –Before I Go to Sleep starts off relatively strong and, for what it's worth, Rowan Joffe manages to create a genuine sense of mystery surrounding his fragile protagonist from the film's very first scene.
However, the story quickly begins to lose its edge – and focus – when Christine starts digging deeper into her past, quickly falling into clichéd thriller territory. That's made all the worse with a few too many inconsistencies and far-fetched scenarios, all coming together to render it shallow and uninvolving.
It's a darn shame, because the three main actors are all capable of delivering outstanding performances and both Kidman and Firth are convincing enough for the most part, though even they as characters seem detached to what should have been a complex and taxing plot.
Many have pointed to Christopher Nolan's groundbreaking thriller, Memento, and even Adam Sandler comedy, 50 First Dates, as two films that, despite being at opposite ends of the spectrum, deal with similar plot devices in much more decisive ways. Before I Go to Sleep has neither the intelligence of the former nor the comic relief of the latter and, in the end, really just has nothing.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
Adapted from Paula Hawkins’ hit debut novel of the same name, The Girl on the Train doesn’t translate all that well on the big screen. The story – a complex web of violence and betrayal – falls flat thanks to a flimsy, lifeless script that lacks the character of the original source material.
The story is centred on Rachel (Blunt); a depressed, alcoholic divorcee, who spends her days riding the train to New York to a job she no longer has. The train, which she boards twice a day, also passes by her old home; a place she once shared with her ex-husband, Tim (Theroux), who has recently become a father with his new wife, Anna (Fergusson). Saddened by the life she once led and lost, Rachel likes to spend her time on the train imagining how the others live, and becomes infatuated with what she believes to be the perfect romance between her ex-husband’s neighbours, Scott Hipwell (Evans) and wife Megan (Bennett).
Drawn in by their seemingly blissful relationship, Megan soon becomes obsessed with the couple and starts spying on them for a few seconds each day. However, when she witnesses Megan in the arms of another man, Rachel decides to take matters into her own hands, only to find herself waking up the next day bloodied and bruised with no recollection of what happened the night before - and with Megan missing.
Drawing comparisons to David Fincher’s Gone Girl – minus the intelligent script and the gripping suspense – the story’s biggest problem lies with the screenplay which comes across as unfocused. Neglecting to fully-realise and flesh-out its characters, audiences – especially those who haven’t read the book – will struggle to connect to the people on the screen, who are either dull or helplessly cartoonish. Using one too many flashbacks, the back-and-forth jumps don’t do much for the story’s cohesiveness, while the choppy pacing doesn’t help either.
Despite the efforts of Blunt, who works hard to keep her character compelling, what was considered by many as a literary phenomenon, has translated into a bland and a by-the-books thriller which not only fails to capture the essence of the novel, but disappoints on all other fronts as well.