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Eyes Wide Shut

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Eyes Wide Shut

Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Rated: R
RunTime: 159 Minutes
Release Date: July 1999
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Vinessa Shaw, Thomas Gibson, Leelee Sobieski, Alan Cumming, Todd Field

Review by Walter Frith
4 stars out of 4

Isn't it odd that on the day (July 16, 1999) that Stanley Kubrick's last film, 'Eyes' Wide Shut' opens, that it marks the 30th anniversary of the day the Apollo 11 space mission was launched and its occupants would be the first men on the moon four days later on July 20, 1969. Since a film about a space odyssey is Kubrick's masterpiece, I feel the space time continuum rumbling around us. : - )

Where were you when Stanley Kubrick died? Kubrick died in the early morning hours of March 7, 1999.....a Sunday. I had been out late with friends the night before and slept in until about noon and I was lying in bed trying to wake up by watching t.v. --- as if that works! While channel surfing, CNN's Headline News had the story at the top of its 30-minute newscast and I jumped out of bed and ran out to tell my family of the news. Kubrick's death was overshadowed the next day as baseball legend Joe DiMaggio passed away. Since he hadn't turned out a film in 12 years since 1987's 'Full Metal Jacket', Kubrick worked for two years in the final process, filming his last picture which is an appropriate swan song for those who understand his vision and those who don't. That aspect of his work never changed throughout the decades and there's no reason to believe that Kubrick would change to conventional film making so late in life. Kubrick would also stick to his re-occurring theme of dehumanization for his final film.

In no small way, I am deeply convinced in the strictest of terms that 'Eyes Wide Shut' ranks right up there with Kubrick's great classics such as 'Dr. Strangelove' (1964), '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968), and his most controversial film (maybe not anymore) 'A Clockwork Orange' (1971). Kubrick has explored every aspect of human nature under the most meticulous circumstances. You could practically write an entire book on each one of his landmark films. His thorough examinations of war, social strife, political incompetence, technology running amok, showing that times change but people don't, prove that Kubrick was way ahead of his generation. His take on sex hasn't been seen with such broad study since 1962's 'Lolita' and that film is now a Sunday school film compared to 'Eyes Wide Shut'.

Tom Cruise plays Dr. Bill Harford, an M.D. married happily (or so it seems) for nine years to his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman). The two of them have a seven year old daughter. One night will attending a party of high society thrown by a colleague of Bill's (Sydney Pollack), some degrading things begin to happen in the lives of the main characters that will affect them over the next 24 hours that will undoubtedly change their lives forever. Alice dances with a handsome and much older Hungarian man with some distinguished grey whose personality is that of a poet who likes to seduce women. Bill is hit on by some young women at the affair, sometimes two at a time and helps his colleague and party host out of a jam when a girl with whom the host has been having sex, almost overdoes on cocaine and heroine in the upstairs bathroom.

After arriving home, Bill and Alice let the pot they've been smoking open some new sides to their personality. As their minds expand, they find there is great sexual tension in their marriage and Alice reveals that she once made love with a navy officer and was willing to throw everything in her life away, including her family, in order to be with this man for only a brief time. Bill is blown away by this. From the audience's point of view, his assumed fidelity towards his wife goes unrewarded and he leaves the apartment for a sexual exploration of his own in New York city's underground. You must see the rest of this film for yourself to believe it, enjoy it and be artfully shocked by it. There is one harrowing scene at a party attended by a couple of hundred people out at a mansion in the countryside that is unforgettable. It's a sex ritual and orgy that is clandestine, posh and upscale, and for adults only where everyone wears formal dress, cloaks and capes, and masks. At one point, there are no words spoken. It is only what looks and feels like a soliloquy of mime art. It is a scene that ranks right up there with the opening war room scene in 'Dr. Strangelove', the computer malfunction in '2001: A Space Odyssey' and the climactic scene of Malcolm McDowell's lidlocked eyes during the final stages of brain washing in 'A Clockwork Orange'.

At the centre of the film's main characterizations, 'Eyes Wide Shut' is more about fore play than it is sex. The scenes involving sexual display are tastefully done and there is a lot more innuendo in the film than you may have been led to believe during the film's advanced publicity.

Kubrick, for the last time in his career, uses many unknown actors to sell his message and does it brilliantly. He makes a mega star like Tom Cruise fit in well with these people and never gives one character in a minor supporting role domination over another. In a major supporting role, Sydney Pollack is sensational. I always said that he should have received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for 1982's 'Tootsie'. Directing himself as Dustin Hoffman's neurotic talent agent, Pollack was hilarious in a role he made totally convincing. Nicole Kidman is very admirable in her role in 'Eyes Wide Shut'. I would have liked to have seen more of her acting talent used in the film but she is not as dominating in the film's second half.

Carrying this film for the better part of the way the same as he did in 'Born on the Fourth of July' is Tom Cruise. Forget his marketable name, forget his early juvenile films and give this man the credit he deserves. Cruise exhibits sexual frustration and a wrestling match with his conscience superbly in this film as a man with an unwavering amount of decency in the perverse world he discovers. It's a challenge any actor would have difficulty with and Cruise holds his own with any other actor that could have played this role. Two Oscar nominations and his ability to act equally as well opposite Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Paul Newman (who heaped well deserved praise on Cruise), make Cruise that rare commodity of actor AND movie star and those who don't see his talent can only hope to in the future.

What is truly remarkable about the ending of 'Eyes Wide Shut' is the way it is strangely fitting as to what happens to the film's characters. Kubrick intentionally leaves it open to intense debate as to whether or not it is the correct ending and I'm sure he counted on this. Not knowing he would never see the reaction film audiences around the world would have to it makes Kubrick's death all the more untimely and his movies will forever speak to us in a way he never could personally.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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