Skip to main content

We call it confabulation.

Before I Go to Sleep
(2014)

(SPOILERS) An interesting cast (and Nicole Kidman) can’t do much with Rowan Joffé’s adaptation of SJ Watson’s 2011 bestseller. Before I Go to Sleep is a thriller about a woman with anterograde amnesia, who can only store up the memories of one day before she resets herself. This a movie daft enough that it makes the condition seem like a ludicrous invention, one suggesting unexplored options that might undermine the whole conceit (what happens if she decides to pull an all-nighter?), but not daft enough to really go for broke and have fun with its inherent ridiculousness.


Joffé, son of Roland (remember him? He’s been regularly making movies no one has bothered seeing since the end of the ‘80s), received decent notices for the unnecessary recent re-adaptation of Brighton Rock, so why he felt the need to squander that goodwill with this tripe is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the paucity of the material does serve to highlight his slick and well-honed technique, even as it also emphasises that he can’t work wonders as a screenwriter. Or maybe it’s a case of what works on the page is exposed in all its holey glory on the screen. Ridley Scott, ever with an indiscriminate appetite for the tripe, produced.


Hubby Ben (Colin Firth) informs Kidman’s Christine of her condition when she awakes one morning. This is something he does every morning before going off to work. She soon (as in, soon after getting up) discovers she has been seeing a doctor, Dr Nasch (Mark Strong). He advises her to keep her attempts to regain her faculties from her husband, who might not understand. To this end, Christine is given a video camera to log her thoughts each day. She will play it back to herself the next morning, so creating a self-taught guideline to follow. Inevitably, suspicions arise of just what Ben is up to, and why he’s keeping things from her. And, just as inevitably, suspicions of Nasch’s motives also accumulate.


For 40 minutes or so, this is passable enough, a mixture of Memento and Suspicion, continually shifting the sands of what may or may not be the reality of the situation. It’s absurd from the off, but the hermetic nature of the plot allows for some resistance to overt interrogation.


Alas, when the actual reveal comes it’s of the most banal kind, and driven by conventions rather than anything really plausible to the characters. Nor does it bear no scrutiny in terms of the basic logic of the situation. To pull off this kind of charade, you need to flaunt the absurdity (like De Palma would). Joffé’s cast are too reliable; Firth’s almost makes you buy Ben, Strong gets to play a normal (-ish) guy for a change, and Kidman is as unappealing as ever but better deployed than in Paddington.


Ben is revealed as your decidedly non-classic post-Patrick Bergin psycho at the drop of a hat (or play of a video), and the hows of this impostor status invite ridicule. How did Mike (the real name of Firth’s character) get by posing as a teacher under a faked identity? Why would real Ben, even given his estrangement, have no contact whatsoever in four years, even to check up on her? Why didn’t Nasch find out her son was alive? For a doctor so obsessed with a patient, he’s remarkably clueless. It’s also no wonder Mike eventually completely loses it, taking her back to the scene of the crime and having a meltdown, after four years of incessant whinging from Nicole. As for real Ben and son showing up at the end, it’s good to know they finally care when prodded to do so.


Now, if they’d got John Lithgow to play Ben/Mike (and the real Ben, and Christine too) that would have been more like it.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) (SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.