1917 review

For F*** Magazine

1917

Director: Sam Mendes
Cast : George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Mays, Jamie Parker
Genre : War/Drama
Run Time : 1 h 59 mins
Opens : 9 January 2020
Rating : PG13

1917-posterHollywood has made many World War II epics, but not quite as many World War I movies, likely because of America’s increased participation in World War II compared to World War I. Still, there are several movies set during the Great War which are considered masterpieces, including All Quiet on the Western Front and Paths of Glory. Sam Mendes directs and, with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, co-writes this relentless war film that takes place over two days in April 1917.

In Northern France, British soldiers Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are tasked with a vital and seemingly insurmountable mission: they must deliver an order from Army Command to tell a battalion of 1600 soldiers to stand down from an assault, as a trap set by the Germans lies in wait for them. Schofield and Blake must cross No Man’s Land into treacherous enemy-controlled territory to deliver the message in time. For Blake, the stakes are personal too, as his older brother is among the soldiers who will die if this information is not conveyed. Braving enemy gunfire and the elements, Schofield and Blake bravely undertake the mission of their lives.

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Filmmakers strive to achieve immersion, to make the audience feel so engrossed in watching the movie that they forget they’re doing so. 1917 achieves this. This is an awards season film, but unlike many prestige movies that vie for the Oscars and other awards, 1917 is far from a stuffy, airless affair. Mendes breathes life into the historical event, closing the 100-plus-year gap between World War I and the present day with an intense and involving epic. He was inspired by the stories of his grandfather Alfred H. Mendes, a Trinidadian World War I veteran and novelist, which increases the personal investment Mendes has in the subject matter. The result is almost akin to a cutting-edge exhibit at a museum, not entirely unlike The Scale of Our War at Te Papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, an exhibit that tells the story of the Gallipoli campaign using oversized hyper-realistic sculptures.

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There is an immediacy to 1917, but while the movie seems constantly gripping, it is also a masterclass in pacing – there are peaks and valleys, quiet moments and frenetic, intense ones, all carefully yet organically situated within the story. This is a movie that effectively essays anxiety, with the throb of Thomas Newman’s percussion-heavy score signalling dangers around every corner. Several set-pieces are among the most visceral and thrilling of any war film in recent memory, yet Mendes executes them with just enough restraint.

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George MacKay anchors the film, with Dean-Charles Chapman right alongside him. The film doesn’t need much to make these characters feel compelling, and just a few interactions between the two establish who they are as soldiers and as people. MacKay is remarkable in the role, especially when the film calls for him to look exhausted and tired. Our two heroes are put through the wringer and face obstacles which are incredible but never implausible.

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There’s not a lot that doesn’t work here. Some reviews have cited the lack of character development as a flaw, but this movie is focused on the experience of the characters and on putting the audience in their shoes, and doesn’t need a lot of back-story or a heartfelt monologue about their childhood to accomplish that.

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One element of the film that is possibly distracting is its big-name supporting cast. The structure of the movie means that actors like Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Richard Madden and Andrew Scott show up for roughly one scene each. They play people whom our two heroes meet along the way, meaning there is even less to them as characters than to Schofield and Blake. As such, it is possible that their appearances, which almost seem like cameos, might break the immersion, but this did not happen for us.

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Spectre, the second Bond film directed by Sam Mendes, opened with a pre-credits sequence shot and edited to look like one continuous take. Mendes ups the ante here, presenting the entirety of 1917 as if it was filmed in one continuous take. This might sound like a gimmick, but the film deploys it as an excellent storytelling tool. The film’s first moment of violence is a small one – Schofield cuts his hand on barbed wire. This reviewer winced more than he normally would, realising this is because the single take approach increases the subjectivity. Cutting away means retreating, however momentarily, to safety. 1917 offers no such safety.

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Acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins can add yet another notch to his belt, and credit must also go to Steadicam operators like Pete Cavaciuti. Deakins also deployed remote-controlled cameras on wires, flying across the battlefield. Editor Lee Smith deserves plaudits too, as after a while, the game of looking for the hidden cuts becomes just too hard to play. The device of making the film look like it was magically filmed in a single take calls attention to itself because it is hard not to marvel at the technical mastery required to pull it off, and yet, it is also invisible, creating immersion rather than detracting from it.

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Summary: 1917 drops audiences onto the Western Front and is exciting, emotional and harrowing, its visceral impact the result of finely calibrated filmmaking. Inspired by his grandfather’s war stories, Sam Mendes crafts a masterpiece. 1917 captures the weariness, the adrenaline, the desperation, the horror and the sadness of war like few movies before it have.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

For inSing

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Elton John, Sophie Cookson
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 2h 21m
Opens : 21 September 2017
Rating : NC16

The world’s most impeccably dressed superspies are back in the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, and this time, they’ve got help from across the pond. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has completed his transformation from rough-hewn street hooligan to dapper Kingsman agent. Things are going well for Eggsy, who is in a loving relationship with Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). Without warning, Kingsman headquarters is decimated, leaving Eggsy and gadget-meister Merlin (Mark Strong) to pick up the pieces. The perpetrator? Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a drug kingpin and the sociopathic leader of a secret society known as The Golden Circle. To prevent Poppy from committing murder on an unprecedented scale, Eggsy and Merlin rendezvous with the agents of Statesman, Kingsman’s American counterpart – they operate out of a distillery instead of a tailor’s. The group is led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges), to whom Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whisky (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger (Halle Berry) report. As the scope of Poppy’s plan is laid bare, the agents of both organizations must forge a partnership to foil her scheme. A spanner is thrown into the works when Eggsy and Merlin discover that Harry (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s mentor who was presumed dead, is still alive.

2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is generally well-regarded by audiences and critics. It functions as director Matthew Vaughn’s ode to classic spy-fi films and TV shows of days gone by, while also containing his trademark acerbic wit, shocking violence, and bravura style. Unfortunately, much of what made The Secret Service so appealing is missing from The Golden Circle. The film is still entertaining and funny, and the action sequences are as slickly-staged and eye-catching as ever, but this movie has a bad case of ‘sequel-itis’. The first film was anchored by the Pygmalion/My Fair Lady-style arc of a gentleman spy training a young apprentice, and seeing the character develop as he is put through his paces. The Golden Circle doesn’t have that emotional anchor, and is tonally more all over the place than its predecessor. The moments which are meant to be sincere do not jibe with the wink-and-nod humour, which teeters on the edge of over-indulgence. If you’ve grown attached to the characters from the first film, you might not like how they’re handled here.

Egerton returns to his breakout role, and while he’s a fine leading man, he’s less interesting to watch now, since Eggsy has already arrived as a sophisticated gentleman. The friendship between Eggsy and Roxy (Sophie Cookson) is much more compelling than the romance between Eggsy and Princess Tilde, so fans of the first film might be frustrated that the latter relationship is given far more emphasis here than the former. We also must question the decision to bring Firth’s character back from the dead. Sure, Firth’s performance as Harry in the first movie was brilliant, but audiences have already gone through the process of accepting Harry’s death, a shocking moment which is one of the elements that made Kingsman so memorable. When it is explained how Harry survived, this reviewer turned to his friend and exclaimed “what a cop-out!”

As is often the case in sequels to successful films, more stars sign on, eager to be part of what appears to be a mega-franchise in the making. Moore’s performance as Poppy, a twisted businesswoman with an affinity for 50s Americana, is serviceable because she is such a talented actress. However, it’s just what one would expect from her, and nothing more – the Poppy character isn’t all that surprising. Similarly, her bionically-enhanced henchman falls far short of Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle in the first film.

Bridges does almost nothing, while Berry stands around next to Strong. Tatum isn’t in this nearly as lo ng as the advertising would have you believe. Instead, it’s Pascal who steals the show. The inclusion of Elton John as himself might strike some as being a touch too silly even for an outlandish comedy, but the singer showcases surprising, delightful comic timing – and yes, even gets a fight scene to himself.

Those who were impressed with Kingsman: The Secret Service’s subversive humour, stylish thrills and throwback spy movie vibe with a bit of an edge will find those elements present in the sequel, but will be disappointed by how much of a step backwards this feels. At 141 minutes, it is also much too long, losing some steam just before the final act. A third instalment has already been planned, and we hope the series gets its mojo back with that one.

Summary: Bigger and flashier than its predecessor but losing too much of its charm, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a sequel that is mostly going through the motions. Director Matthew Vaughn’s flair for filming action sequences is still evident, though.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kingsman: The Secret Service

For F*** Magazine

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Jack Davenport, Mark Strong, Michael Caine
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 129 mins
Opens : 12 February 2015
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Violence)
The gentleman spy – judging from Hollywood’s preoccupation with rough-and-tumble gritty action thrillers, it might seem like an archetype that has gone out of style. Kingsman: The Secret Serviceendeavours to bring it back. Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, codename “Galahad”, a member of the elite independent clandestine organisation Kingsman. When it comes time to recruit a new Kingsman, Harry sets his sights on Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Egerton), a ne’er do well from the wrong side of the tracks. Eggsy is put through his paces, subjected to the rigorous Kingsman training and selection process, picked on by most of the other recruits but finding a friend in the form of Roxy (Cookson). In the meantime, a global threat surfaces in the form of megalomaniacal tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (Jackson), hell-bent on unleashing a catastrophe only Kingsman can foil.

            Kingsman: The Secret Service is adapted from the comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Director Matthew Vaughn previously collaborated with Millar on Kick-Ass, to smashing results. Just like the bespoke tailored suits showcased in the film, Vaughn is a perfect fit for the source material. Between this and X-Men First Class, he more than proves he’s worthy of directing an actual Bond movie. While Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman have changed a fair bit from the comics, there are still nods fans of the book will enjoy, such as Mark Hamill playing a supporting role – Hamill was one of the kidnapped celebrities featured in the comic. Kingsman: The Secret Service is filled with playful homages to classic spy-fi staples, such as The Avengers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart (listen out for the line about the shoe phone) and of course the early Bond films. There are even shout-outs to Dr. Strangelove and The Shining. In the midst of making all those references, Vaughn manages to imbue the movie with an identity all its own, tossing several surprises into what seems like a very familiar spy yarn.

            Kingsman: The Secret Service is a throwback to the above-mentioned shows and movies and in a Tarantino-esque way, spy movies pop up as a subject of discussion in the film itself. Of course, Vaughn was never going to play it straight and that wicked, subversive streak he displayed in Kick-Assis in full force here. Vaughn takes palpable delight in juxtaposing the cultured high-society world of countryside mansions, 19th Century brandy and Saville Row tailors with lots of swearing and graphic brutality. Brace yourself for impalements, severed limbs, exploding heads and even someone getting bifurcated by way of bladed prosthetic leg. Most likely on the strength of Kick-Ass, Vaughn has managed to convince the studio bigwigs to let him go the full, gleefully R-rated hog instead of having to pull his punches and deliver a softer, friendlier product.

            The single sentence “Colin Firth kicking ass” is really all the promotion and marketing this movie needs. Expertly playing on his public persona as an evergreen Mr. Darcy, it is an absolute thrill to see the Oscar-winning thesp take out a bar full of street toughs with calculated efficiency. The physical training that the actor underwent pays off, and it really doesn’t feel as if Firth sat out the action sequences for a stunt double to take his place. One jaw-dropping, blood-soaked scene has been compared to the martial arts in The Raid, the camera-work kinetic and jittery yet stopping short of incoherent and nausea-inducing. Firth is able to bring a lot more to the role past that casting gimmick, admirably lending genuine pathos when it is required.

            This reviewer was worried about how Taron Egerton would come off in this film, as the role of the “unrefined mentee” who is taken in and shown the ropes is usually played one of two ways: insufferably annoying or just really bland. Egerton manages to be neither and does make for a convincing street kid, possessing just enough bad boy swagger without it being ridiculous. As Roxy, Sophie Cookson is appealingly spirited and cool; it’s to Vaughn and Goldman’s credit that they don’t force a predictable romance between Eggsy and Roxy into the movie, their relationship actually more satisfying for it.

            Samuel L. Jackson has the time of his life here – for an actor who’s in everything from direct-to-DVD dreck to the biggest blockbusters, he isn’t given to sleepwalking through roles. His lisping, charismatic supervillain is a hoot – it’s to Jackson’s credit that he’s able to balance the menacing and funny sides of Valentine. It also helps that Valentine’s henchwoman Gazelle (Boutella), giving new meaning to the term “blade runner”, is distinctive, graceful and terrifying. Mark Strong lends a gruff authority and trustworthiness to the role of Merlin, Kingsman quartermaster and the supervisor of the recruits’ training. It’s also fun to see Michael Caine in this – this reviewer assumed that he would merely show up as the Kingsman head and not have much to do beyond that, but there are a few more layers to “Arthur”.

            If there’s one major element that lets Kingsman: The Secret Service down, it would be the film’s reliance on sometimes-unconvincing computer-generated imagery. Sure, it’s heightened and has no aspirations to realism, but cheap-looking CGI can still pull an audience out of it. This is most noticeable during a scene set at the edge of space involving a satellite that has to be shot down. Still, the intricately-choreographed stunt work, including Firth’s martial arts mayhem and one of the most exciting skydiving scenes in recent memory, do make up for it. In Kingsman, genre aficionados will find a spy flick that’s as fresh as it is nostalgic and will come away thoroughly entertained.

Summary: An edgy, entertaining, genre-savvy spy movie filled with winks, nods, carnage and Colin Firth kicking ass.
RATING: 4 out of 5Stars

Jedd Jong

By Royal Command: Kingsman: The Secret Service press conference

As published in Issue #60/61 of F*** Magazine

Text:

BY ROYAL COMMAND

F*** is at Comic-Con to hear the stars and creators of Kingsman: The Secret Servicediscuss the spy movie
[San Diego Exclusive] 
By Jedd Jong 
                Further into 2015, a certain famous fictional spy will be embarking on his latest cinematic adventure. But in February, moviegoers can look forward to kicking off the year with a different kind of espionage movie in the form of Kingsman: The Secret Service. In the film, Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, a dapper middle-aged gentleman who just happens to be a member of an elite covert organisation known as “Kingsman”. Harry plucks ne’er-do-well Gary Unwin, nicknamed “Eggsy” and played by newcomer Taron Egerton, off the streets to become a Kingsman recruit. The young man is put through his paces as a threat emerges in the form of maniacal biotechnology magnate Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
The film is based on the 6-issue comic book series The Secret Service by writer Mark Millar and artist Dave Gibbons. Millar is known for working on Marvel Comics titles such as Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Ultimates Fantastic Four and Civil War, in addition to creating Wanted and Kick-Ass. Matthew Vaughn, director of Kick-Ass, reunites with Millar on Kingsman, Vaughn working from a screenplay he co-wrote with writing partner Jane Goldman. F*** is in attendance for the press conference held at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, with Millar, Gibbons, stars Firth, Jackson, Egerton, Sophie Cookson and Sofia Boutella on hand to discuss the movie.
                This writer steps up to ask the panel a question regarding the tone of the film and the balance struck between that of an homage to 60s-style spy fiction and the exciting, sometimes-shocking panache director Vaughn is known for. This writer can’t help but feel a little nervous as Samuel L. Jackson replies “who do you expect to have the answer to that question?” It seems Vaughn would be best-suited to answering the query, but he is not on the panel. Luckily, Mark Millar steps in.
                “He’s a genius so he had no problem with it at all,” the Scottish author says of Vaughn. “He’s a big fan of all this stuff [spy-fi] growing up and like all of us here, probably, he’s into that eclectic pop culture, like Quentin Tarantino, [who] takes all the stuff that he loves and puts it into one movie.” It is a good move invoking Tarantino, seeing as Samuel L. Jackson is an oft-collaborator of the director and will also appear in his upcoming film The Hateful Eight. Millar reveals that the seeds for The Secret Service were planted when he and Vaughn chatted about old-school spy movies on the set of Kick-Ass. Millar credits the Roger Moore-starring The Spy Who Loved Mewith igniting his love of spy movies and bemoans how contemporary entries in that genre have become too self-serious. “When I was a kid I used to go see James Bond and say ‘I want to be him when I grow up’ and now you go and see James Bond and he’s crying in the shower!” He remarks, referencing 2006’s Casino Royale, to laughter from the crowd. Granted, Bond was comforting Vesper who was crying in the shower, but we see where he’s coming from. “I think you want to see a spy movie where you don’t want to kill yourself after!”
                Much has been made of how this will the first big action film for Colin Firth, who like fellow esteemed British thespian Helen Mirren, has gone from winning an Oscar for playing royalty to “kicking arse” in a comic book adaptation. He describes his character Harry Hart as “the Henry Higgins of the spy world.” “It was great fun,” he says of getting to play a deadly action hero. “I’ve never had to do anything this physical, unless you include having to pull Hugh Grant’s hair,” he quips to laughter from the crowd, referencing Bridget Jones’ Diary. Firth worked with various experts including gymnasts, martial artists and ex-Special Forces soldiers to prepare for the part of the superspy. “The training was extraordinarily intense and unfamiliar to me. It was long and incredibly gratifying by the end. I wish I had done more of it.”
                Firth grew up in England in the 1960s, right in the middle of the spy-fi boom. “I think to a very large extent, in terms of style and the character of the spy movies that I fell in love with, [it] has its roots in the ‘60s,” he says, name-checking The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the Harry Palmer films, The Avengers and of course the early Bond flicks. A lethal streak hidden beneath a composed, proper surface appeals to Firth: “It’s the guy in the suit who seems slick and cool and capable but very, very contained – but you cross him at your peril.” Firth reveals that he had been “sitting here waiting for the offer on Bond for long enough” and recalls, “he [Vaughn] came to me and said ‘I think you’re the last person on earth anybody would expect to kick anyone’s ass and I think it would be a big surprise but I would want you to really do it.’” Vaughn and Goldman hadn’t finished the script when they approached Firth, but the comics were enough to sell him on the idea. “I loved it, I couldn’t put them down.” Vaughn told him up front that the training process would be an arduous one but Firth was up for the challenge. “He wanted me to

really do it, to be able to really sell it, not just cut to a stuntman. He wanted it to really be me, to be utterly, convincingly me.”

                Though certainly not a traditional “action star”, Samuel L. Jackson has markedly more experience in the action genre than Firth. When asked if he offered any advice to his co-star, Jackson recalls when Vaughn showed him Firth’s big fight scene. “I was sitting there slack-jawed. I was like ‘that’s Colin Firth? Really?!’ So he didn’t need any help from me.” Like Firth, Jackson was attracted to Kingsman because of the escapism of the spy action genre. He reminisces about playing pretend with his friends when he was growing up. “I get to do it as an adult on a grand scale. I get to have a real gun in my hand and it shoots fake bullets but now, when I shoot somebody, unlike my friends who always go ‘you missed me’, their chests explode. I love that.” 


Jackson has something of a reputation for giving reporters a hard time – he egged film journalist Jake Hamilton on to say the “n-word” and decimated a news anchor for confusing him with Laurence Fishburne. Today, we get a taste of that when a reporter’s mobile phone, placed on the table to record the press conference, starts ringing. Jackson answers. “No, this is Sam. What’s going on? Who’re you looking for? You know, whoever you were calling was in the middle of a press conference and had their phone on the desk as a voice recorder and you just f**ked that up. So you want to call him back in like 30 minutes? Awesome.” The crowd is amused; the owner of the phone probably less so. “Come on, don’t be ashamed,” Jackson chides. “Claim your f**king phone.”
It must be thrilling for the younger actors to go toe-to-toe with these titans of cinema, not to mention the other big-name supporting players Michael Caine and Mark Strong. Sophie Cookson, literally fresh out of the Oxford School of Drama, plays the lead female role of Roxy, a Kingsman recruit alongside Eggsy. She concedes, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly intimidated but we were all in it together and we all wanted to make the film as good as possible and have as much fun doing it and doing it with titans such as these has been an absolute honour and we’re very lucky.”

          Algerian dancer and actress, Sofia Boutella, known as the face of Nike Women, plays Gazelle, henchwoman to Valentine. In the comics, Gazelle is male. The film retains the character’s deadly bladed bionic legs. Echoing Cookson’s sentiments, she says of getting to act alongside Firth and Jackson, “it was absolutely amazing. I think it was such an honour for all three of us to get to work with them and could not believe what was happening to us, to be honest. They’re all really, truly generous and they were absolutely amazing with us on set. It was a great experience.”

               Welsh actor Taron Egerton seems a little overwhelmed by just being at Comic-Con and stays quiet through most of the press conference. He starts to answer a question about the training he had to undergo in preparation for the part of Eggsy, but is cut off by the afore-mentioned phone call. However, we do get the feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more from him soon. As a young actor, he is understandably thrilled to be in the film with Firth and Jackson. “I think the two gentlemen next to me, I think it’s probably fair to say are the quintessential living English and American movie stars and for me, getting to do scenes with both of them was not only wildly different but also completely wonderful in different ways and is something I’ll always remember.”

Before I Go To Sleep

For F*** Magazine

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP 

Director : Rowan Joffé
Cast : Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff, Dean-Charles Chapman, Jing Lusi, Rosie MacPherson
Rating : PG13 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)
Run time: 92 mins
The thought of losing one’s reliance on memory is a frightening one. What would it be like not knowing the fundamentals of one’s personal history and not knowing who to trust? In this psychological thriller, Nicole Kidman plays Christine Lucas, a woman who suffers from anterograde amnesia following an accident years ago. Christine loses all the memories she has made in a given day when she wakes up the next morning, her mind “resetting” to how it was in her early 20s. She is cared for by her husband Ben (Firth), struggling with his wife’s predicament but choosing to remain strong for her. However, Christine begins to doubt if she can trust Ben and begins secretly seeing neuropsychologist Dr. Nasch (Strong) in the hopes that he can devise a cure for her condition. However, the more Christine uncovers, the more she loses track of as she awakes the next day.
            Before I Go to Sleep is adapted from the best-selling 2011 novel of the same name by S.J. Watson. Writer-director Rowan Joffé pulls the viewer in with an efficient set-up – the premise justifies the chunks of exposition delivered at the beginning of the film. It also allows Joffé to play with the structure a little. However, it’s not long before all the conventions used in the telling of this story become evident. We’ve seen anterograde amnesia used as a plot device in films from Memento to 50 First Datesand there’s a distinct reason why memory loss has become associated with predictable soap opera-esque melodrama. There is an effort on Joffé’s part to spin something new from this shop-worn trope and the film’s first act does establish an air of plausibility and tension. However, by the time the climax rolls around, Before I Go to Sleep has leapt down the generic thriller rabbit hole, leaving head-scratching dangling plot threads in its wake.


            One major thing Before I Go to Sleep has going for it is that it’s very smartly cast, playing on audience expectations associated with each of the three stars. Nicole Kidman’s performance as a character who’s vulnerable but is not about to take what’s happening to her lying down is sufficiently compelling and, for the first two acts of the film at least, helps the audience overlook the inconsistencies in the narrative. Ideally, a film of this type should make one go “what would I do in a situation like this?” and Kidman does accomplish that. The film reunites Kidman with Colin Firth, her on-screen husband from The Railway Man. There’s a different dynamic here and Firth is able to strike a balance between sympathetic and suspicious even though the material doesn’t give him quite enough to play with. Mark Strong is known for his ability to play “sinister”, but he can just as easily play “steadfast, reassuring and concerned”, which he does here. Anne-Marie Duff rounds out the cast as Claire, a friend from Christine’s past whose appearance in the story calls events into question. Given this, she is little more than a plot device.

            As far as whodunits go, Before I Go to Sleepis far more straightforward than one would expect, the potential for truly mind-bending psychological thrills left somewhat unmined. At its weakest moments, the film strays into “Lifetime Movie of the Week” territory. During the denouement, Edward Shearmur’s score goes into full-blown cliché thriller mode, heavy on the “Psycho strings”. All this said though, the film does manage to be absorbing and chilling in the moment and it’s only upon later reflection that it begins to crumble. As much as the logic of the twists and turns matter, it comes down just as much to how entertaining it is. While the big reveal isn’t quite as ludicrous as that in the Liam Neeson-starring amnesia thriller Unknown, Before I Go to Sleep falls short of the satisfyingly explosive thrills of that film.

Summary: It’s well-acted and initially engaging, but Before I Go to Sleep is ultimately unremarkable psychological thriller fare, complete with the plot hole or two that comes with middling entries in this genre.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong