Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

It may be safe to say that Stanley Kubrick is my favorite director. There are plenty who come close to that title, but nobody else has produced so many movies of the highest quality and in such an array of genres as Mr. Kubrick. I finally got around to watching the last film he made, Eyes Wide Shut, and while it wasn’t quite up to par with his usual masterpiece fare, it was still a solid film and definitely Kubrickian.

Eyes Wide Shut is a so-called sexual thriller about a couple with slight marital problems played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The very first shot, that of Kidman nude from behind, establishes this film’s ferociously sexual nature. This film is not for people sensitive to depictions of sex and nudity. As a person not offended by such material, I found it interesting and quite frankly brave to go as far as it does. I know it’s become somewhat controversial because of its excessive skin, but I’m not going to criticize it for its risk-taking.

I will criticize other aspects of the film, however. For a story that focuses on a married couple, the screentime is clearly dominated by Cruise. I wouldn’t mind this so much if Cruise wasn’t giving one of the most wooden performances I’ve ever seen. Entire scenes will go by with his facial expression remaining absolutely static. It’s like his emotional reactions have short-circuited and he’s left with an inability to discriminate between shocked, sad, and angry. There are a few scenes where he does an all right job, but most of the time Cruise is no more expressive than the masks in the film. Nicole Kidman didn’t impress me at all, but next to Cruise she looked great.

The film’s pacing and timing is my other point of complaint. There’s no sense of urgency to the story, and though I don’t necessarily mind stories taking their time, this one overstays its welcome and runs needlessly long. I’m not sure if the story should have been trimmed or just the shots, but either way, the film should have been more succinct.

Besides those issues, Eyes Wide Shut is solid and handled expertly by Kubrick. The direction is characteristically well-crafted. It features a lot of the steadicam following shots that Kubrick made famous in The Shining. There’s a lot of color themes going on, sometimes by room, and the film is predominantly shot dimly to add to the creepiness.

Creepiness that hardly needs any help. Kubrick’s story is, as usual, interesting, dark, and threatening. The masks used in the party that Cruise works his way into are the most effective touch at enhancing the unsettling tone. Had these masks revealed a single aspect of humanity, be it a nose or a mouth, they would have been a fraction as effective. Kubrick creates a huge crowd of anonymous people with these full-face masks; when Cruise is ordered to take his off, you can feel the weakness he is experiencing. Everyone around him gets to look out from behind their identity shields and see who he is. Worst of all, he’ll never know who out in the real world was there and could see him.

Thoughts like this make the final act of Eyes Wide Shut  contemplatively creepy. The intriguing, unfolding story and the direction of the film make it feel like Kubrick, but there are a few aspects that mark this film as unique. Although Kubrick reuses classical music like he has in the past (A Clockwork Orange, 2001), the main score of the film is a very minimalist piano work, somewhat reminiscent of John Carpenter’s themes. Between most shots, he also uses dissolves, something that lends an atavistic feel to a film with modern stars.

This film may be divisive for some. Anyone offended by sex cannot expect to enjoy this movie – it is a sexy, sexy film. Its length and pace may agitate other viewers as well. But if you’re a fan of Kubrick’s work and style, then Eyes Wide Shut should be worth a few hours of your time.

Final rating: 7/10

–James A. Janisse





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