A New York City doctor, who is married to an art curator, pushes himself on a harrowing and dangerous night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery after his wife admits that she once almost cheated on him.
After his wife, Alice, tells him about her sexual fantasies, William Harford sets out for a night of sexual adventure. After several less than successful encounters, he meets an old friend, Nick Nightingale - now a musician - who tells him of strange sex parties when he is required to play the piano blindfolded. All the men at the party are costumed and wear masks while the women are all young and beautiful. Harford manages to find an appropriate costume and heads out to the party. Once there, however, he is warned by someone who recognizes him, despite the mask, that he is in great danger. He manages to extricate himself but the threats prove to be quite real and sinister.Written by
The thing a lot of folks haven't liked about Stanley Kubrick's films is the fact that he always seemed to think the audience needed some points driven home a little harder than others. Very little is left for debate; most everything is spelled out, pressed hard, and dwelled upon. His critics have compared the long waits between his films to the long periods of waiting that occur while watching his films.
Personally, I like the long, slow scenes in his films. When they're filled with something: music, movement, thought, memory of a previous scene, dread, or any other emotion, they can never really be said to be empty. I like them because, with Kubrick, I can be sure that they're absolutely essential to his ultimate vision. He could have put out a six-hour documentary on tissue manufacturing; at least I'll know that not one minute of screen time is wasted.
"Eyes Wide Shut" isn't as vacuous as, say, "Barry Lyndon" or "The Shining." Compared to those two, this one scoots along like a person trying to get to his car in the rain. It'll try a lot of folks' patience, I'm sure -- even his most loyal fans will be bothered by the incessant piano "bell tolls" in the soundtrack of some scenes, or the constant reminders (in imaginary flashbacks) that Cruise's character is bothered by his wife's near-infidelity. I know I was.
Despite that, it's an apt final film for the long, glorious career of a man who has done more for the cinema, with less movies, than can ever be catalogued. To try and cite influences for this particular work is futile. Though one might draw parallels to Lindsay Anderson's "O Lucky Man!" or Martin Scorsese's "After Hours," "Eyes Wide Shut" is no less than a complete work from the cold heart and brilliant mind of Stanley Kubrick alone. It's also a furiously ingenious piece of filmmaking, one that works less on the emotions than on the senses and on the mind. Unlike most of Kubrick's earlier work, however, it does have an emotional subtext, which is used to devastating effect.
Cruise, by the way, does an outstanding job, not as a trained, camera-conscious film actor, but as a mature, seasoned performer. Here he uses his "Top Gun"/"Jerry Maguire" suavity to malicious effect; like Ryan O'Neal's Barry Lyndon before him, he's an egotistical cad. Unlike Lyndon, he gains our sympathy -- that's key to keeping us from disowning his character and thus negating the entire film.
Kidman is given less screen time, but it matters little. She's mostly seen in the beginning, and she has brief (but crucial) scenes throughout, and a masterful one at the end. It is safe to say that this is her best performance to date, and those of us who have been ignoring her treasured abilities up until now (the Academy, critics, myself) will be astounded to see how far she's come since "Dead Calm." Her high points: the argument with her husband that ends by setting the film's plot in motion perfectly captures the way women lure men into arguments when the cause for one is nonexistent (and on Cruise's part, how men can't think fast enough to do anything about it), and her dream confession scene, in which she wakes laughing but becomes tearful during recollection.
On a technical level, "Eyes Wide Shut" displays Kubrick's trademark perfectionism. Recreating Vietnam in rural England for "Full Metal Jacket" must have been nearly impossible, but the unrelenting accuracy in recreating uptown and downtown New York City is absolutely stunning. Right down to the diners and the newspaper stands; I shake my head in awe when I remind myself that Kubrick (a native Brooklynite) hasn't been to NYC in decades. The lighting and photography is impeccable, also, as it is in every one of his films.
This is the sort of film one sees more than once. Once is good to cleanse the palate, to clear out all the residual toxins left from other recent films. See it again, perhaps a third time, and get to appreciate the graceful, nearly unblemished finale of a man who took the art of cinema seriously. It's a sobering experience.
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