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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 MrBrown
4 stars out of 4

The late Stanley Kubrick's long-awaited final film, _Eyes_Wide_Shut_, is the perfect example of a true NC-17 film--but not in the way one would be led to believe. Ever since production began on the film way back in the fall of 1996, rumors have been swirling about the sexual content of the film: "Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman bare all and really do the nasty"; "Tom wears a dress"; "Tom lusts after teenage Leelee Sobieski"--if the reports were to be believed, _Eyes_Wide_Shut_ would turn out to be a high-budget, A-list porn film. Fanning the flames of speculation was the now-familiar scene of a nude Cruise and Kidman making love in front of a mirror, the first taste of the film made available to the public.

Having seen the actual film, I advise anyone ready to don their raincoats for a showing of _Eyes_Wide_Shut_ to think twice. Yes, there is some strong sexual content (some of which was altered to receive an R rating, but more on that later), but not the wall-to-wall fornication as had been whispered. Rather than _being_ sex, _Eyes_Wide_Shut_ is _about_ sex--a film that explores this adult theme in a sensitive, mature, and thoughtful manner. If that isn't a film that could not better exemplify a rating that simply means, in its literal definition, "No one 17 and under admitted," then I don't know what is.

Kubrick isn't above a little playful teasing, and that's what he does for the opening section of _Eyes_Wide_Shut_, which appears to suggest all manner of ensuing tawdriness. The opening shot is of Kidman's character, former art gallery manager (_not_ psychiatrist nor medical doctor) Alice Harford, doffing her duds and baring nearly all. Once fully dressed, she and her husband, Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) make their way to a swank party thrown by wealthy friend Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack, in a role once meant for Harvey Keitel). At the soirée, a tipsy Alice engages in a dangerous flirtation with an anonymous partygoer while eyeing her husband getting friendly with a pair of seductive models.

Not too long after that, a fully nude female form appears onscreen, but not in the way one would expect. Similarly unexpected is the turn that soon comes in one astonishing Cruise-Kidman bedroom scene, which reveals itself to be the film's driving dramatic force. While this scene is all about sex, it is not _of_ sex; in fact, it is of words describing sex, and in decidedly inexplicit terms. What lends this scene such power, however, is the hypnotic effect that comes when all facets of cinema are triumphantly married: photography, editing, writing, and especially directing and acting. A description of what the scene literally entails would sound deceptively simple and thus completely fail to do it justice. Directed with remarkable precision and control by Kubrick and quite simply the most triumphant moment in Kidman's entire acting career, this scene is the first of _Eyes_Wide_Shut_'s fair share of haunting moments.

This charged encounter sends Bill off into the streets and the film into its main (for lack of a better term) action, where in one, long night, he is simultaneously repulsed and enticed by various sex-related situations he happens to stumble upon. The decadent centerpiece of his journey (and of the film itself) is a now-notorious orgy sequence, made even more controversial by the addition of some obvious digital effects work used to obscure some sex acts--and hence secure an R rating. From what I understand, no genitalia nor glimpses of penetration could be seen in Kubrick's unobstructed view, which is just as well--the point of the scene is not to titillate but to create an unsettling atmosphere where desire and carnal curiosity becomes tinged with danger and outright fear. (The atmosphere is stunningly bolstered by Jocelyn Pook's chilling minimalist score.) The point still comes across in the censored version, but undoubtedly diluted, for the unconvincing CGI work just serves to distract more than anything else.

This bit of censorship (which Warner Bros. insists was approved by Kubrick before his sudden death in March) also shows just how out-of-touch the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board is. It fails to realize that it's not the presence of sex that matters but its context and intended effect. For all the scandalous associations that come with an orgy, there is nothing exploitative about the sequence; it is far more disturbing than it is the slightest bit arousing (which it isn't), and the sex is a means to a cinematic end and not the end itself.

Kubrick, his co-scripter Frederic Raphael (working from the "inspiration" of Arthur Schnitzler's novel _Traumnovelle_), Cruise, and Kidman's end is to create a probing and painfully real examination of a marriage, relationships in general, and basic human desire and nature. Clocking in at well north of the two-and-a-half-hour mark, there is bound to be a slow stretch here and there, and one late plot revelation is a bit too easily predictable; but overall, there is nary a false note in the execution. Though receiving equal star billing and delivering an outstanding and revealing (in every way) performance, Kidman's presence definitely takes a backseat to that of her on- and off-screen husband, who dominates the screen time. Cruise's innate likability and average-guy appeal makes him the ideal audience surrogate for this foray into the sexual underground; one can completely relate to his fascination and fear of all that he witnesses. The secondary roles are also well-cast, from Pollack (who, in the end, is probably a more effective choice for his role than Keitel could have been) and Sobieski (as a fetching nymphet) to a hilarious Alan Cumming as a hotel desk clerk who makes no secret of his interest in Bill. The one strained performance comes from Marie Richardson, who bears a passing resemblance to her role's original portrayer, Jennifer Jason Leigh (who was replaced when she was unavailable for reshoots); though stiff and awkward in her single scene with Cruise, her work is far from ruinous to the film.

It would take something much larger than that to detract from the vision of Kubrick, to whose control the audience completely surrenders. The common reaction once the end credits began to run was a simple "hmm," and while it doesn't sound that way, that is a good thing. _Eyes_Wide_Shut_ is thought-provoking, but the film's spell goes beyond that; it makes you _want_ to think about it afterward. That feeling even permeated this week's gala premiere of the film; in post-screening interviews, many of the celebrities in attendence expressed their need to think about what they had just seen.

That, right there, makes me somewhat grudgingly grateful that the film didn't end up hitting screens with the dreaded NC-17 rating. _Eyes_Wide_Shut_ is a rich, challenging work, and as such, it is certain to fly clear over the heads of a baffled American moviegoing public; consequently, the film is all but certain to die a quick--and much-talked-about--box office death. And in this entertainment/political climate of scapegoating, had the film been released with an NC-17, fingers would have been pointed at the rating, rendering it even more useless than it already is. If one of the biggest, if not the biggest, movie star in the world is unable to make an NC-17 film commercially viable (regardless of its subject matter, challenging or otherwise), then no one would ever want to touch the NC-17 ever again. There is no excusing Warner Bros.'s tampering with Kubrick's work, but at least it leaves the door open for another name star, another high-profile director, and a major studio bold enough to take risks meant to be seen exclusively by an adult audience. However, the sad case remains that it is sure to be a very long while before anyone dares to think of entering that doorway again.

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