Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Limp story-telling wrapped up as semi-intellectual nonsense
And so the last chapter of the Kubrick enigma is written. Trouble is, the real enigma is why anyone thought there was one to start with.
There is a danger that Eyes Wide Shut will become, as Kubrick's last movie and the one he died making, some sort of cinematic Holy Grail, immune to all criticism. But it deserves to be said: this is a bad film. Story is glossed over with ambiguity and characterisation eliminated for, well, nothing in particular.
The primary problem is that it is a film lacking in any direction whatsoever - by the mid-way point it could have turned into an excellent thriller, or gone in another direction and been an equally compelling look at the two main character's relationship with each other. Indeed, it spent two hours building up both of these plots, but failed to deliver on either. Instead, it wandered off for the last hour in no particular direction and consistently failed to expand any of its ideas into anything resembling a plot-line, ending with a insultingly limp coda where everything was forgotten, forgiven and plastered over. It is as if halfway through, Kubrick changed his mind about what the film was about and then changed it back again for the last half hour, leaving neither element explored to any great degree.
Like most of Kubrick's films, the characters are bland, narrow and un-engaging; Tom Cruise's character bumbles from one unrelated event to the next, purely on the motivation that he feels the need to cheat on his marriage because he misjudged his wife's ability to fantasise. There is no structure to his movements through the film. It's all rather aimless. It's all rather pointless. His breakdown at the end is all the more ridiculous because he didn't actually do anything except spend a hideous amount of money not doing it. If this is an accurate analysis of relationships in the nineties, heaven help us all.
The one sub-plot that actually promises to engage any interest - a piano player friend has a job at a party that Cruise contrives to sneak into - is presented in a manner worthy of Hitchcock. The resulting party is suitably weird and has a darkly threatening conclusion. Another twenty minutes are spent turning the screws up a notch or two further. You reach a point where you are genuinely on the edge of your seat and then the whole thing fizzles out, to be left with the feeling that surely that can't be all there is to it? Maybe you have to tune in again next week for the second part...
What we are left with is an hour in the middle of the film that was completely unnecessary to the relationship of the two main protagonists, which seems to have been the main point of the film. All it serves is to inject a little weirdness into what would otherwise have been a rather banal story about the sexual jealousies of two spoiled middle-class New Yorkers. But even this isn't taken anywhere really interesting. Instead of seeing the characters under a microscope, you feel as if you watching them from the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. Any interest comes from your own desperate attempts to bring the various plot points together in some sort of cohesion.
Most frustratingly, the film is littered with well-rounded, interesting characters and ideas and, like all Kubrick films, is beautifully shot. But this simply isn't enough to make it a compelling piece of cinema. Like 2001, A Clockwork Orange and the second half of Full Metal Jacket, there is no emotional attachment to the subject - everything is presented rather coldly and clinically; even the griminess of the hooker's apartment doesn't feel that grimy. It may as well have been a documentary on fungal nail infection. The wonderful and intriguing characters - the Hungarian playboy, the neurotic and repressed daughter of one of Cruise's patients - are discarded after a single scene each. They are not taken any further. It's all a bit of a cheat, really.
Like Peter Selllars in Dr Strangelove, Jack Nicholson in The Shining, or Vincent D'Onforio in Full Metal Jacket, this film needed an actor with enough personal charisma and confidence in himself to still shine through after Kubrick's relentless directorial hammering. Instead, the entire cast go through the motions like clockwork, like someone who has said the same word over and over so many times that it no longer has any relation to its meaning. Two performances leave an impression: Alan Cummings, who has played his role so often he can slip into it effortlessly; the other is from Rade Serbedzija, who hams it up wonderfully. The rest, most disappointingly Sidney Pollack, simply glide through the film, leaving no trace of their passing.
It is human nature to try to make sense of something so pointless - let's face it, you've paid your money and you want to know what you've spent it on. The danger is that this excruciatingly blank canvas will become painted over with a lot of semi-intellectual twaddle, as self-appointed interpreters of the film preach to the countless poor souls who sat for two hours wondering when the film was going to start and the third hour in the sinking realisation that it was almost over. To say that you "get what you put in", or that "the pointlessness *is* the point" is a pathetic apology for a film with no idea what it wants to be.
A surprisingly melancholy celebration of Conan Doyle's most famous creation
Billy Wilder's excellent 1970 film handles the whole subject of Sherlock Holmes from a refreshingly different angle. As the title suggests, the film is rather more concerned with characterisation than plot, which although entertaining and original, is hardly an adequate stage to show off Holmes' exceptional talents.
Instead, Wilder and Diamond start with the premise that "Watson's" stories for Strand Magazine were a little more lurid than the "reality" and use it to develop a more subtle characterisation than the "thinking machine" of the literary Holmes. Admittedly, the film probably concentrates on Holmes' celebrated cocaine habit more than it should, but all references are lifted straight from the book and in any case, Stephens does not dwell on it.
Stephens himself is quite simply excellent, giving Holmes' a depth of character not seen again until Jeremy Brett on the small screen. Stephens' performance leaves us with a slightly melancholy Holmes', a man who perhaps regrets that, unlike Watson, he has dedicated his life to pure reason and while the screenplay hints at Holmes' sexuality, Stephens deflects it masterfully, remaining ambivalent and gentile where a less accomplished actor would have been simply camp, and so uses the suggestion to wrap another layer of ambiguity about the character.
All in all, Wilder and Stephens combine to make a refreshingly accessible Holmes and the entertainment comes from the interplay of characters rather than pace of plot.