A lot of emotion but not enough screenplay to keep things moving even for the spare 92 minute run time
Nicole Kidman gives it her best shot but there is simply not enough going on in Rowan Joffe’s psychological drama to make it work. The lack of plot is aggravated by the bizarre use of jarring loud noises and the guessing games the audience goes through trying to understand the story. Perhaps this effect is to knock the audience off balance so that they appreciate how off balance Kidman’s character is, but the effect is wasted. Instead of helping the tedious screenplay it only accentuates it.
Christine (Kidman) and her husband Ben (Colin Firth) live in the bucolic county of Berkshire, west of London. Their modern neat and clean house belies the dark secrets hidden therein. Christine has suffered a terrible trauma that has rendered her a chronic amnesiac. Although she is outwardly healthy and active, when she awakes from her night’s sleep she will have forgotten everything that transpired the day before. In fact, she has forgotten everything back to practically her childhood.
Each day is a new day to Christine, literally. Each day brings back the same questions, the same fears and the same insecurity as the day before. There is no progress made that is not erased with the night’s sleep.
Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) is a neuropathologist bucking the odds. He is treating Christine for what appears to be mental trauma brought on by a physical attack. Nonetheless, he soldiers on. As he soldiers on, film maker Rowan Joffe (based on the novel by S.J. Watson) weaves in the pieces of the puzzle. The story is well told but it is far too thin to make hay of this well-worn trope. One piece of the puzzle is that the doctor does not trust husband Ben. Another is that good friend Clare (Anne-Marie Duff) has been away a long time and loving son Adam died mysteriously of meningitis some years earlier. Unfortunately, another piece of the puzzle is that Ben admits he has lied to Christine to protect her and to relieve himself of the painful duty to give her the same bad news every day.
This is a thought to ponder, for such a position is certainly horrible to imagine. It is hard to say who is in the worst position, Ben or Christine. But once Ben admits he is lying and we know Christine is mentally unsound, there is little left for the audience to grasp. The viewer is left waiting for something to happen that is real and the sad fact is that it is too long between real things.
The idea of the story is good, and it is possible that the novel, taking advantage of many times the word power to get the message across, tells a more convincing story. But there can be no suspense unless the audience is dropped a steady stream of clues and there are few clues in this movie. Colin Firth and Mark Strong both execute terrific performances and the production is tight and lean. Firth goes through a transformation in this film that is truly remarkable; is acting will elicit a gasp every time. More moments like that would have made this a great movie, but it was not to be. The ending dissolves in a terrible pot of treacle, complete with music that would be more appropriate in a shopping mall.
The film was shot in real 35mm negative film stock (the last such stock made by Fuji) and the effect is luscious. There is a scene of green fields taken from the perspective of a moving car that is flat out gorgeous and without knowing the details of the film format it will be hard for the viewer to say why. Some of the sets involve rain and/or an overcast sky, each one strikingly warm and soft in the analog film format. Kidman’s skin is lovely, of course, but has the slightly weathered look of someone who has worried too deeply and too long. Again, rendered in perfect detail by the excellent media.
This is a well-produced film but there is much more that each of the three leads can, and must, do. As this is only Rowan Joffe’s second feature film in the director’s chair, there will be better things coming from him in the future.