Roland Joffé's "Before I Go To Sleep" May Be Too Bad For Even A Razzie

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If you zoom in to the pulled quotes, please note that I 100% disagree. This travesty opens on 10/31/14.

Roland Joffé started his career with back-to-back Oscar nominations for best director on the strength of “The Killing Fields’ and “The Mission” in the mid 1980s. He followed that with a string of Razzie nominations for “The Scarlet Letter” and “Captivity,” and he was also hand in the live-action “Super Mario Bros.” which was an absolute train wreck. His latest film, “Before I Go to Sleep,” isn’t even worth wasting a perfectly good Razzie on.

As a freelance critic I am never assigned films to review. I choose what I want to cover, and I usually pass on films I am predisposed to dislike. I won’t be reviewing many horror films, Tyler Perry-in-drag movies, and as few of Ethan Hawke’s efforts as humanly possible. I am usually very excited for suspenseful thrillers, and from the synopsis I read before the press screening for this disaster I thought I was in for a treat, perhaps even a spiritual successor to “Sleeping with the Enemy,” one of my all-time favorites. Instead, I found myself wondering if I could sneak out of this cure for insomnia to catch game 7 of the World Series (congrats to the San Francisco Giants, even though I was pulling for the Kansas City Royals!) without damaging my relationship with the good advance publicity folks who make my screenings possible. Damn my work ethic for making me sit through this. Roland Joffé, I demand a refund of the 92 minutes of my life wasted on this dreck.

Based on a novel by S. J. Watson, the story revolves around Christine (Nicole Kidman), an amnesiac who wakes up every day with no clue who she is or where she is or why she’s naked and in bed with some guy. The guy, played by Colin Firth, is her husband Ben, or so he reminds her every morning. Shortly after Ben leaves for work, Christine receives a telephone call from a Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) who reminds her to watch a recording on a video camera which she uses to record her thoughts at the end of each day. Slowly—painfully slowly—Christine begins to think that Ben may not be who he says he is. She’s as much a prisoner in his house as she is to her own mind.

If this was a character study on the challenges of dealing with amnesia, the self-directed video recap would be an interesting method of memory reinforcement. Unfortunately, the film comes off as an unfunny remake of “Groundhog Day” minus Bill Murray and Sonny and Cher songs. The film is shot in drab colors and poor light—why can amnesiac Kidman use a telephone and a video camera but not a light switch?—which doesn’t convey a sense of oppression and fear as much as lull you to sleep. I would have got a nice nap in had Joffé not peppered the movie with screams from Kidman. I wanted to scream too. “Get on with it already! I’m missing the last baseball game of the year for this depressing waste of Firth’s talents. Did he lose a bet or what?”

I’m generally ambivalent about Nicole Kidman—I don’t think she’s particularly bad, she’s just has never done anything I’ve been particularly enamored with either. Colin Firth won an Oscar for his role in “The King’s Speech,” and numerous other accolades, his films have earned in excess of $3 billion globally, and yet there’s nothing to commend him for here. He looks as bored as I felt throughout the film, and even when he is supposed to be sinister and menacing at the end he looks like he’s just going through the motions, perhaps waiting for a call from Kenneth Branagh to come star in something worthwhile. Joffé fails to make us care about Christine in any significant way, makes no effort to heighten or even hide the obvious twist by trying to make (fake) Ben remotely sympathetic or innocent of her misperceptions, and generally seems to use the film as a long excuse to batter this helpless woman. The violence is brutal, not shocking so much as gratuitous and misogynistic. Joffé stumbles in painting Mark Strong (a reliable supporting actor) as a possible co-conspirator or alternative bad guy though that was obviously his intent, which basically killed any interest I may have had in anyone in the cast (and there’s not much cast to start with). After the climax, if you want to call it that, another Ben shows up, played by Adam Levy, who looks more like a creepy killer than Firth ever could. The ending is so ridculously saccharine it made my teeth hurt.

I haven’t read the novel that “Before I Go to Sleep” is based on, but I have to believe that it’s got to be better than this. I feel sorry for Joffé, who sort of reminds me of one of the San Francisco Giants playing in the World Series while I struggled to maintain my composure in the theatre suffering through this frustratingly bad movie. Pitcher Tim Lincecum arrived in baseball and quickly earned back-to-back Cy Young Awards as the best pitcher in the National League at a very young age. Just a few short years from dominance, Linececum lost his mojo and his place in the Giants starting rotation. He’s barely an afterthought now, getting into one game out of seven in against the Royals. He faced five batters, struck out two, and was otherwise just another arm in the bullpen, not even good enough to be regularly called upon in important situations. I think Joffé is similar in that he erupted on the scene with back-to-back Oscar nominations and has been highly ineffective ever since. Unlike Lincecum, who at 30 years of age should be right in his pitching prime and may yet regain his dominant form – he did toss a no-hitter this year – I fear Joffe has used up whatever talents as a director he may have had. 

If "Before I Go To Sleep" manages to get an Oscar nomination, I may just quit. If it gets a Razzie nomination, I'll be very disappointed that the Razzies have lowered their sub-standards so far. The next time I get a press-screening opportunity for a Roland Joffé movie I think I’ll pass and look for the latest Ethan Hawke mediocrity instead. With a little luck there may even be a baseball game on somewhere. 

0 / 5.0