Eyes Wide Shut Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1999

Kubrick was very inspiring... he is a great director-- very passionate and very dedicated... and he pushes. I love that dedication. He really cares.

- Nicole Kidman

Truth is often much more interesting than fiction, or at least in the case of "Eyes Wide Shut", the swan song of director Stanley Kubrick. The goings-on behind the camera during the two years from script to screen is a story rife with drama, conflict, and intrigue, and lends itself enough material that one could probably make a compelling film merely about the making of "Eyes Wide Shut".

He needed more time, he needed more parts of the scene to be shot or added scenes. But I was in the middle of shooting and he needed two weeks and I didn't even have two days. So I couldn't go back.

- Jennifer Jason Leigh

Eyes Wide Shut

All the elements lend themselves to a great story. Director Stanley Kubrick, the reclusive and eccentric perfectionist, making his first film in over a decade since "Full Metal Jacket". The casting of the Hollywood husband-and-wife team of Tom Cruise ("Jerry Maguire") and Nicole Kidman ("Practical Magic"), who allegedly shared intimate moments on closed sets with only Kubrick present. The production and plot details clouded in so much secrecy that even the actors on the set received script pages for only the scenes they were in. A shooting schedule that stretched for months on end, involving multiple takes of the same scene and numerous re-shoots, even after production had officially been wrapped up. Actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, who had her scenes re-shot with a different actress because she couldn't break away from the set of "eXistenZ". Actor Harvey Keitel (seen recently in "Three Seasons"), who waited for weeks on end for the production to begin, only to leave midway through rehearsals due to other commitments.

It's not for Mr. Kubrick to decide credits. There is a process of determination which will involve the Writers' Guild.

- Frederick Raphael

Then there were the allegations in the National Enquirer and the Star that sex therapists were brought in to help Kidman and Cruise with their 'acting', which promptly resulted in lawsuits being filed. There was also the spat between Kubrick and screenwriter Frederick Raphael over writing credits for the film, which was based on the novel "Traumnovelle" by Arthur Schnitzler. In the past week, there has been the controversy over the last minute changes, including some digital manipulation to a pivotal scene, which was used to avoid having the finished film being slapped with an NC-17 rating. And of course, there was the untimely death of Kubrick on March 7th of this year, days after delivering a final cut of "Eyes Wide Shut" to the studio brass at Warner Brothers.

Paradoxically enough, the end result pales in comparison to the drama and tension behind-the-scenes during the lengthy production. Though Kubrick purists will most likely be delighted with this final chapter in a brilliant and often-controversial film career, this sumptuous-yet-plodding affair lacks the suspense, emotional hooks, and narrative momentum to make it the director's best effort.

Don't you think that one of the charms of marriage is that deception is required for both parties?

Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) and his wife Alice (Kidman) are a well-to-do New York couple with a seemingly idyllic existence. However, at a Christmas party being thrown by one of Bill's friends, Victor Ziegler (Syndey Pollack), it is readily apparent that their marriage is far from faultless. While Bill chats up a couple of comely models, Alice winds up overindulging on champagne, and nearly falls for the wily charms of a debonair Hungarian (Sky Dumont). However, their flirtations end up stopping short of infidelity when Bill is called upstairs by Ziegler to resuscitate an overdosed prostitute, while Alice feels uncomfortable with the Hungarian's insinuations.

Why haven't you been jealous about me?
I don't know... maybe because you're my wife... maybe because you're the mother of my child.

However, the incidents at the Christmas party are not forgotten the following night, when Bill and Alice get into an argument over each other's faithfulness. In an emotionally-charged moment, Alice reveals how she was enraptured by a naval officer the previous summer, and how she would have given up everything-- her marriage, her daughter, and her future - to succumb to her temptation. This revelation has a profound effect on Bill, who becomes intoxicated with jealousy, obsessed by the thoughts of his wife in the arms of another man.

This then begins the twenty-four hour journey for Bill into the New York sexual underworld, a journey in which he comes to understand the moral implications of unbridled lust, his own sense of inadequacy in the face of his wife's allegations, and the insatiable ache of jealousy. Along the way, he finds himself both exhilarated and appalled by a number of sexual misadventures.

After one of his patients dies in his sleep, the daughter of the dead man (Marie Richardson, filling in for Jennifer Jason Leigh) professes her undying love for Bill in a moment of erring desire. An inviting prostitute (Vinessa Shaw) solicits him on the street, a temptation that Bill finds all but impossible to resist. A stop at a late-night costume shop reveals an odd relationship between the proprietor (Rade Serbedgia of "Mighty Joe Young") and his wayward teenage daughter (Leelee Sobieski of "Deep Impact"). A run-in with an old medical school chum (Todd Field) leads him to a secretive gathering at a mansion in which masked figures engage in ritualistic, yet cold and indifferent, sex.

If you make any further inquiries, or mention a word about what you have seen here, there will be consequences for you and your entire family.

As Bill slips further onto his adulterous path, the pangs of guilt increasingly weigh heavily upon him with each passing stranger. Furthermore, the film enters traditional thriller territory as it becomes evident that someone is following his actions very carefully, possibly orchestrating his undoing.

Stanley shoots in consecutive order. You discover things at the same time your character does.

- Leelee Sobieski

Director Stanley Kubrick

"Eyes Wide Shut" has the indelible mark of Stanley Kubrick, with its pedestrian yet deliberate pacing, its long tracking and steadicam shots, the meticulous attention to detail in the way shots have been framed, and the haunting yet simple orchestrations that populate the film's soundtrack. It is a film that seems anachronistic compared to the quick-cut MTV-school-of-filmmaking that is vogue in cinema today, with its subtly-told story and deep thematic underpinnings. The film's highlights include a number of scenes that make a memorable impression. The opulence in abundance at the Christmas party at the film's opening, with its luminous cinematography and lavish production design. The argument between Bill and Alice, with the unblinking camera providing perfect cadence to this emotionally charged scene. The gothic unreality of the orgy set piece, both titillating and grotesque at the same time, accompanied by Jocelyn Pook's uncanny score. And the relentless dread as Bill is stalked on a darkened New York street. Aficionados of the late director would be proud.

Unfortunately, the other aspects of the film are not quite as successful. While the film's second act is rife with tension and intrigue, the first and third acts are more leisurely-paced, with a dramatically lower sense of urgency and narrative drive, more in line with the atmosphere typical of European films. Those who have little appreciation for Kubrick's technique, or prefer their stories told in a more conventional manner, will find these two bookends meandering and poorly-paced.

It was just him and the two of use in the room, so you were able to become aroused or feel whatever you felt... nobody else in the world knows us the way Stanley did and was privy to our relationship in that way.

- Nicole Kidman

In addition, Cruise, with his restrained performance, lacks the intensity to convincingly convey the emotional disorder brewing within his character, which is unfortunate, since it is his character that the audience spends the most time with. In contrast, Kidman provides a consistent effort in her shorter scenes, allowing the passion and conviction of her character to surface in a number of memorable scenes, particularly in an argument with Bill, as well as the opening scene at the Christmas party. It is a shame that we did not see more of her in this film. And though they are limited by minor roles, Richardson and Shaw also have effective turns playing opposite of Cruise.

Much has been said about the love scenes between Cruise and Kidman, which were filmed on closed sets with only Kubrick present. In reality, the two actors only have one such scene together in the entire film, and it is brief. Most of the interactions that Cruise's character has are with other characters in the film. Most of the film's 'action', bordering on soft-core pornography, actually occurs between Alice and a naval officer during a number of black-and-white flashbacks, as well as during the film's infamous orgy scene, which was reworked with a number of digital enhancements to block certain shots.

"Eyes Wide Shut" certainly fits within the ouvre of the late Stanley Kubrick. With its skillful and painstaking crafting, its bleak portrayal of the human condition, and its brushes with controversy, it belongs amidst the late director's other works, including "A Clockwork Orange", "Lolita", and "Full Metal Jacket". On the other hand, it is meandering at times, lacking both tension and urgency, and saddled by a satisfactory, though not entirely effective, performance by Cruise. Though Kubrick fans will not walk away disappointed, those unfamiliar with the director's work may find themselves wondering what the fuss is all about.

Stanley is making a movie he wants to make-- not to shock. He says what he wants to say. He's lovely. And it was sad when it was over.

- Nicole Kidman

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

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