'Eyes Wide Shut' Is Only Slightly Marred By Two Of The Prettiest And Least Talented Actors In The World.
By James Digiovanna
JULY 26, 1999: I'VE ALWAYS ASSUMED God didn't exist, because only Stanley Kubrick could have created something as perfect as the universe.
Eyes Wide Shut is Kubrick's final masterpiece, only slightly marred by the appearance of two of the prettiest and least talented actors in the world. Right from the start (the start being the appearance of Nicole Kidman doing what she does best, undressing for the camera) we're struck by Kubrick's visual talent. Eyes Wide Shut is shot in a warm, yellow tint that serves as a counterpoint to the enormous, sterile interiors of the wealthy homes where it takes place.
The story is one of the most effectively tense that I've ever seen. Although Eyes runs two hours 45 minutes, it's so stressful and well-paced that it seems no time has elapsed.
While Nicole Kidman remains uniformly awful throughout the film, she mercifully disappears from the action fairly early on, and the film focuses on equally awful non-actor Tom Cruise. Cruise, however, improves markedly throughout the film. This is partly because he wears a full facial mask for the middle third of the movie, thus sparing us his annoying facial twitches.
However, in the end, as his character experiences nervous exhaustion, he actually seems believable. This may well be because Kubrick took two years to film Eyes, and during that time Cruise was said to have actually suffered from nervous stress forceful enough to give him ulcers. I figure Stanley told the producers, "I'm just going to keep filming until Tom breaks...must keep filming...Tom will break." Two years later, it worked. Sadly, the effort to make an actor out of Tom Cruise seems to have killed Kubrick, so we won't be treated to any more of his cinematic mastery.
The story kicks off when Nicole Kidman's character, Alice Harford, tells her husband Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) that early in their marriage she had a strong sexual fantasy about another man. Deeply disturbed by this, Dr. Bill is then paged by the daughter of one of his patients, who has just died. He takes a cab through the Manhattan night to the man's deathbed, obsessing about his wife and the Naval officer of her dreams.
Things become strange as the dead man's daughter professes her love for Cruise. She's made up to look like a ragged Nicole Kidman, and her boyfriend, played by Thomas Gibson, arrives, looking like an elongated Tom Cruise.
Feeling further unnerved, Dr. Bill stumbles into the night, encountering prostitutes, jazz musicians, strange scenes at a costume shop and a masked sexual orgy in a Long Island mansion.
Each character he meets recurs, appearing first as enticing, and then later as diseased or corrupted. The symmetry this creates, as Cruise sinks into and then rises out of this strange night-world, creates one of the most complete and satisfying cinematic experiences in recent memory. Wild coincidences that move the plot forward come together into well-explained and believable connections, and, even though the film never bows to the slavish desire for "realism," it has an internal logic that helps create and maintain its exceedingly tense mood.
Kubrick's films have, ever since 2001: A Space Odyssey, been met with mixed responses and even bafflement, which always, over time, turns into overwhelming approbation. Eyes is garnering its share of praise and rejection from the critics, but more of them, perhaps heeding the warning of past reviewers who were later embarrassed by their pans of some of his classics, are giving it the thumbs up.
As a result of this and its ingenious peek-a-boo ad campaign, Eyes has, in one weekend, made half as much as Kubrick's best grossing film did in its entire run, perhaps further reflecting the now-accepted wisdom that he was one of the great geniuses of film.
What makes Eyes satisfying in this realm is that it really is every bit as good as his previous work. Instead of pulling a Fellini and allowing his work to deteriorate with age, Kubrick pulls a Bergman and gets out with one of his best efforts. While any Kubrick film requires repeat viewings to truly appreciate, it is at least clear that Eyes is one of his most visually stunning works (no easy feat for the man who made 2001, Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon) and has some of his most cohesive plotting.
In many respects, Eyes is like 2001: A Space Odyssey. It has very little dialogue, the music (an incredible score by contemporary classical composer Jocelyn Pook) carries a great deal of the force, and it creates a completely unreal world that nonetheless seems as possible as the real world. Only there's no giant cosmic baby at the end of Eyes. Unless you count Tom Cruise.
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