Movie reviews: Before I Go To Sleep, Life of Crime & Sex Tape

Before I Go to Sleep ****

Movie reviews: Before I Go To Sleep, Life of Crime & Sex Tape

How can you protect yourself if you don’t know who you are? Adapted from the bestselling thriller by SJ Watson, Before I Go To Sleep (15A) opens with Christine (Nicole Kidman) waking in the morning to realise she doesn’t recognise the man sleeping in her bed; worse, when she looks in the mirror, Christine doesn’t even recognise herself.

The man is her husband, Ben (Colin Firth); slowly, patiently, he tells Christine that as a result of a car accident years ago, she suffers from an atypical amnesia that causes her to forget everything she has learned on any given day. When Ben leaves for work, however, Christine discovers a video-recorder on which she finds a film of herself warning against trusting Ben.But why?

And who is the mysterious Dr Nash (Mark Strong) who appears to want to help Christine regain her memory? Adapted and directed by Rowan Joffe, Before I Go To Sleep initially offers an intriguing exploration of memory and identity, with Kidman excellent as the vulnerable and bewildered Christine, a woman with little more than a blank canvas for a personality.

Soon the story segues into the realms of the ‘domestic noir’ thriller, however, as Christine’s paranoia begins to crystallise into tangible threat. Some canny casting choices ensures that the film thrives on this gear-change, and while Firth and Strong are in good form acting against type, Kidman is superb in the central role.

The drab ordinariness of the suburban London setting and its rain-soaked streets of greys and washed-out blues adds considerably to the creeping sense of horror at Christine’s plight, as the ominous tone builds to a genuinely shocking climax.

Trophy wife Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) has a Life of Crime (15A) thrust upon her when she is kidnapped by Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Mos Def).

The ransom demand is one million dollars, but Mickey’s husband Frank (Tim Robbins) isn’t a man to hand over his stash of illicit loot without a fight, particularly when his mistress, Melanie (Isla Fisher), persuades Frank that the kidnappers have actually done him a favour… Adapted by director Daniel Schechter from Elmore Leonard’s novel The Switch, it lacks the quality of self-conscious cool that animated previous Leonard adaptations such as Get Shorty (1995) and Jackie Brown (1997).

Indeed, this may well be the most tone-perfect adaptation of any Leonard novel, its deadpan characters letting the dialogue do much of heavy lifting when it comes to storytelling, while Schechter’s clean, spare direction refrains from editorialising about who we should be rooting for.

That may well be because, apart from the blameless Mickey who gets caught up in a spider’s web of scheming, most of the characters are bad guys who are nowhere as clever as they believe themselves to be. Aniston makes the most of her central role, turning in a neatly understated turn as a woman who has suffered in silence for far too long, but virtually all of the ensemble cast are excellent, with Robbins in particular shining as the unintentionally hilarious oaf Frank.

The 1970’s period detail (which includes a soundtrack of impossibly cool soul tracks) is beautifully observed, and Schechter’s fidelity to the source novel is a wonderful homage to the late, lamented Elmore Leonard.

Kids, mortgage and the humdrum demands of everyday life have dulled the passion in Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay’s (Jason Segel) intimate relations, so what better way to put a spark back into their bedroom gymnastics than to make a Sex Tape (16s)?

The idea very quickly goes from bad to worse when copies of the tape are leaked from Jay’s iPad onto those of his friends and foes, which sends Annie and Jay off on a madcap chase to retrieve all copies before their reputations are destroyed forever.

Directed by Jake Kasdan, Sex Tape is an intermittently amusing comedy of embarrassment, even if it’s central premise is stretched rather thin by the time the 90 minutes have ticked by.

Rob Lowe makes a terrific cameo as the surprisingly liberal owner of an ostensibly strait-laced mother-and-baby website, Ellie Kemper and Rob Corddry provide solid support as Annie and Jay’s less-than-supportive friends, and Diaz and Segel (who also co-writes) are a likeable couple who find their supposedly stable marriage cracking under the strain of this new and unexpected pressure.

That said, it’s all very predictable indeed, and even the best of the slapstick comedy— most of it courtesy of an enthusiastic Segel— feels a little routine.

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