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Eyes Wide Shut

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All-Reviews.com 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 Greg King
3½ stars out of 4

It has taken nearly twelve years for director Stanley Kubrick to produce his eagerly awaited follow up to his previous film, the powerful anti-war film Full Metal Jacket. Because it was shot over a gruelling 18 month schedule and amidst incredible secrecy, and completed just before his death earlier this year, Eyes Wide Shut has become the most anticipated film of the year, after The Phantom Menace. That it is also this respected director's final film means that Eyes Wide Shut will probably be analysed from a misleading perspective. Many commentators will be tempted to read more into the film's themes and meaning than was intended.

Based on an obscure short story by German author Arthur Schnitzler, Eyes Wide Shut is a sombre and deeply personal exploration of sexual obsession, intimacy, fidelity, temptation, and jealousy. The film basically follows a 72 hour period in the lives of Dr William Harford (Tom Cruise) and his beautiful, stay at home wife Alice (Nicole Kidman), who live in splendid comfort in a luxurious New York apartment. However, after nine years their marriage has grown stale, predictable and even boring as their daily routine seems to drive them further apart.

But then, during a lavish Christmas party thrown by one of Harford's wealthy patients (director Sydney Pollack), the couple inexplicably flirt openly with strangers. This leads to a surprisingly intimate revelation from Alice, when she admits to having sexual fantasies about a handsome sailor she met on their last holiday. Bill is shocked, and his anger leads him to wander the streets in frustration and confusion. He has a number of casual, sexually charged encounters that actually lead nowhere. His wanderings lead him to a secret, ritualistic-like orgy, in which all of the participants wear masks and cloaks. He is left shaken and deeply disturbed by this experience and its unsettling aftermath. However, his experiences also serve to bring him and Alice to a greater understanding of what has been lacking in their relationship.

Kubrick and co-writer Frederic Raphael draw some striking parallels between Alice's lurid sexual fantasies and Bill's encounters, and offer some deep psychological insights into the nature of modern relationships. Its exploration of sexual relationships and sexual attraction is unusually personal territory for a director renowned for his aloofness and distance, and Eyes Wide Shut has a more sympathetic view of women than many of Kubrick's previous films. Despite its subject matter though, the film is tastefully done, and is neither particularly pornographic nor erotic.

The cinematography is typically stylish and lavish. As usual, Kubrick also effectively uses music to underscore the film's moods. Jocelyn Pook's disturbing and deliberately discordant piano-driven score adds to the unsettling atmosphere of the film's second half. However, the careful build up of tension and atmosphere ultimately leads nowhere. Like his earlier Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut is visually quite stunning, superbly crafted and beautifully acted, but it is also slow moving, ponderous and pretentious.

It bears all Kubrick's usual trademark touches, although it's sometimes hard to see why this notorious perfectionist spent 18 months crafting the film. (A sound technician can be seen reflected in an early bathroom scene, a mistake that seems to have slipped by the notoriously perfectionist film maker.)

Over the 18 month shoot, Kubrick has teased out of his two stars their most complex, intriguing and mature performances yet. Having this popular and highly visible married couple play the leads in the film adds a further nuance and emotional depth to the on-screen intimacy that would be hard to replicate. Cruise, who is on screen for most of the film's overly generous 160 minutes, surprises with his most confident yet insightful performance yet. Although the usual mannerisms are present, Kubrick has been able to shape a more complex performance from Cruise. Although she has far less screen time, it is Kidman who grabs the acting honours with a gutsy, revealing and painfully emotional performance.

There seems little justification for the highly publicised replacement of Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was unavailable for re-shooting. Marie Richardson takes over her role, for what is little more than a cameo appearance. The performances from the ensemble supporting cast are all superb, with Alan Cumming a stand out for his delightfully sly turn as a hotel concierge.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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