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Unloving Memory

Laurie Sparham/Studiocanal

Before I Go to Sleep (2014)

Nicole Kidman spends the bulk of "Before I Go to Sleep" in a state of high anxiety, although only an audience prepared to leave all skepticism at the door will be able to say the same. Despite the best efforts of Colin Firth to seem mysterious and Mark Strong to inspire trust – so a bit of a stretch for both of them – what vitality there is in the film comes from Ms. Kidman's cowering, shrieking and panicking; and even that's not really the actor's strong suit.

Rowan Joffe directed and adapted (from S. J. Watson's novel), so he'll have to take the flack. Films about amnesiacs can have fun with their disorientation and paranoia, but this one is a bit too pleased with its sideways spin on "Groundhog Day": Christine (Ms. Kidman) wakes up every morning not knowing who she is, and has to piece her life together afresh each time. Kindly husband Ben (Mr. Firth) handles exposition duties, while concerned medic Dr. Nash (Mr. Strong) suspects that things are not as they appear – suggesting that he at least didn't forget to bone up on his neonoir predecessors, or perhaps just rented "Shattered."

There's a quota of cryptic conversations and creepy conspiracies for Ms. Kidman to untangle while working out who's who; and Edward Shearmur's score knows that the correct tool in the box here is Jerry Goldsmith strings. But Mr. Joffe's British reserve flubs some fairly tepid jump moments, while even a fan would have to say that Ms. Kidman has acquired a disconcerting screen presence lately.

But then Christine is supposed to have been in a state of utter disorientation for a whopping 14 years, so perhaps an odd manner would be the least of the consequences. The true horror and physical toll of such a thing is a level of grimness that the film barely acknowledges, although it does allow the inadvertently jarring sight of the urbane Mr. Firth prodding a clockwork Nokia phone from the dawn of the century. Everything else is more predictable; workmanlike; prosaic. And forgettable.


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