I must start this review by stating that I’m more than aware that I’m in the small minority that love the movie Eyes Wide Shut, I’m not trying to get you to invest cash in this movie, the chances are if you have not seen it you might not enjoy it. Strangely, or maybe not so strange this review of Stanley Kubrick’s last, and in my opinion finest movie. As thus all I ask is that with some years passed since its release the next time you see the movie on TV, or are stuck for a DVD rental you give this film a shot; now all the controversy and expectation has passed you can enjoy the movie for what it is.
Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) are a reasonably wealthy couple enjoying the fruits of many years hard work, they have a beautiful home and have an active life networking at parties. It’s a night out at one such party that rocks a change in the relationship, while Bill heads off to resuscitate a prostitute in the care of the parties host Victor Ziegler (played by the late Sydney Pollack), Alice is left downstairs with a man who has obvious designs on taking things beyond a dance. Both over the course of the night are thrown into a world far different to their own, Bill more so than Alice.
What starts as a simple kitchen sink spat over expectation, and presumption takes Bill out into the streets of New York and into a world of sacrificial orgies, murder, and corruption; Bill’s eyes are opened to exactly how sexual the world around him has become, but will he escape unscathed?
Of all the movies of the late director Stanley Kubrick, I find this movie the harshest; the reason being is that it is very real, you can see the world that Bill has stumbled upon rather unexpectedly is the sort of life that given the right circumstances you could fall into. I for one know that in towns such as Cheltenham Spa, there are certain underground parties in large estates where sex is very much on the cards, parties that both husbands and wives attend (sadly never invited); and if we read out papers, and online news articles truth of the matter is that you know these things exist too.
This is a deeply disturbing movie, and I need to be careful when I say this; it’s not frightening, it’s not overly thrilling, in fact story wise on the surface its quite bland. But under the surface something really nasty is slowly boiling away, something that you can sense but not understand or explain, though you can feel it 20 minutes from the movies offset right through to the conclusion.
Eyes Wide Shut is like a woodpecker, with the unusual sexual misadventures of Bill, and Alice in past reference being pecked away at slowly, fragmenting the marriage into a shadow of its former self. Bill slowly reflects on the sexual thoughts and desires of his wife whom up until where the movie joins the characters he has always been so sure of in respect of fidelity. And it’s that typical pig ignorant damaged male ego that sends him off into the night looking for sex simply off the back of the fact that Alice considered having an affair.
This is a very beautifully shot movie, so much time and attention is put into every single shot, Kubrick having been so picky with his choice of filming locations that for some scenes he waited two years for the right permissions to become available. It is also said that the intense filming style caused the real life marriage of Cruise and Kidman to melt down, though also suggested is the fact that Kidman was a paid employee of Cruise contracted to be his wife to cover aspects of his personal life, in exchange Kidman gained status as a Hollywood A-lister. Given the basis of this last fact (if true) the choice of Cruise and Kidman in this movie seems entirely appropriate.
Eyes Wide Shut has scenes that burn into your brain, the country house orgy I mentioned earlier being one of the most memorable of the movie, not due to any gratuitous behaviour but simply down to the fact that this strange sexual practise almost goes hand in hand with religion, and is strangely occult. More unusual is that all the participants are masked, yet some of the party goers are very much aware of whom Bill is. When Bill is discovered as being not from within the circle, things get really creepy, and you have serious concerns about what awaits for Bill. But it’s the intimidating nature of the characters richer and more powerful than Bill, that really provide the movies biggest menace, along with an incredibly intimidating musical score by Jocelyn Pook, portions of which UK audiences will be all too familiar with thanks to TV show The Apprentice.
As the movie concludes a series of side stories are pulled together to create a picture bigger than you could ever expect, it seems everything is relative; and it’s this point that makes the end of the movie seem far more harsh.
Personally as an actor I admire Tom Cruise; his films are more often than not of superior quality, few of his movies bombing in the terms of box office success. Outside of the actors role however, I think that Cruise is insane. Here he offers a robust hardened performance, perhaps so hardened that he seems almost alien to his audience. Kidman on the other hand, pre plastic surgery acts well up until a lengthy monologue, at this point to me her credibility is lost in one of the most faked and humiliating laughing scenes I have ever seen. Luckily the story allows this element to pass by rather quickly. Of our remaining cast Sydney Pollack is unnervingly creepy, or slimy for want of a better word. Todd Field is charming as the old friend of Bill, and a young Leelee Sobieski gets a sobering lift to her at the time flagging career.
Unusually Eyes Wide Shut for the most part was shot in England, while certain buildings in the States were used, the sprawling and magnificent shots of Bill and Alice’s New York home area were all shot in exclusive London locations like Fitzrovia, Clerkenwell, Chelsea, and Regent Street; and when you watch the movie it’s virtually impossible to believe that it could be anywhere other than Manhattan. Even Kubrick’s St. Albans home was used in filming the movie.