Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Run-time 153mins, Cert 18.

Director - Stanley Kubrick.

Writer - Stanley Kubrick.

Starring - Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Tom Field & Leelee Sobeski.

 

Premise - Dr. William Harford (Tom Cruise) and Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) are a seemingly happily married, successful couple. After a party at a friendís house they have a pot fuelled argument over a fantasy that Alice once had about a Naval Officer. William leaves the house on a call, but rather than returning straight home he embarks on a journey of sexual discovery and debauchery which may well ultimately put his and his familyís lives in jeopardy.

Watching Eyes Wide Shut is something of a bitter sweet experience. On the one hand it is the final film from the late, great Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick was one of cinemaís true visionary geniuses who leaves behind a body of work that will stand the ages and that will take some beating by any potential pretenders to his throne. On the other hand his final film is an amazing piece of work, effortlessly blending astonishing visuals, multi layered themes and subtext with intriguing characters and situations. Yes, the great man will be missed, but I feel that Eyes Wide Shut is a worthy closing chapter on his life.

The first thing that strikes you about Eyes Wide Shut when you watch is how beautiful the film is. Near the beginning of the film the Harfordís are at a party at an opulent New York apartment. The scene is amazing to look at, especially the lights that come down the stairs like a waterfall. Every single shot of Eyes Wide Shut is a treat for the eyes.

Kubrick frames each shot with immaculate precision. He was well known for his perfectionist nature on set, demanding take after take until everything was just as he wanted. When the results are as good as Eyes Wide Shut you canít really argue with his methods. Even though Kubrick shunned the usual widescreen aspect ratio in favour of a TV shaped 1.33:1 ratio, he fills each frame like he is composing a picture.

The steady cam was an invention that revolutionised cinema and it was pioneered to a great extent by Kubrick in The Shining. In Eyes Wide Shut he again puts it to good use. The camera floating effortlessly around the manor house later in the film, being just one example of its use. Kubrick also uses colour to great effect in the movie. Contrasting light is used in many scenes as are bold primary colours. Reds are used frequently as are blues and oranges. One amazing shot sees Nicole Kidman standing in a doorway. The room she is looking into is lit with a loud, vibrant orange glow and behind her the bathroom has a rich blue colour. Itís an image that has stayed with me since the first time I saw the film.

Kubrick paces the film magnificently as well. Clocking in at a fairly lengthy 153 minutes, the film never feels like it is dragging. Kubrick takes our hand and leads us through the various scenes and situations without any of them lingering past their sell by date. Kubrick should also be congratulated for making a film set in New York without stepping foot on US soil. Aside from 2nd unit pick ups for establishing shots the entire film was shot in the UK. Sound stages and portions of London doubled for the streets of New York.

As visual a director as Kubrick was his meticulous nature also stretched to his handling of his actors. The set of The Shining was famous for Kubrick constantly butting heads with Shelley Duvall as he tried to eke a suitable performance from her. Kubrickís obsession with getting just the right performance from his actors continued on the set of Eyes Wide Shut. The production famously went on for 18 months as Kubrick ordered take after take looking for one that was just right. Both Kidman and Cruise had to delay future projects because of the massive delays, but the hard work was worth it as Eyes Wide Shut presents some of the pairís best work.

Nicole Kidman is at her best here; I feel that this film was the catalyst for her really stretching her legs as an actress and exploring her potential. Without this film she may well have not went on to do the kind of sterling work we got in The Others and The Hours. Here she displays great range in many great scenes. Her pot induced confession is just one highlight, as is the simple, but brutal look she has after her husband Ďtells her everythingí.

Tom Cruise is also good here, but unlike Nicole his performance can be patchy at times. For the most part he is good, easily becoming a man caught in a situation over which he has little control. But, at times he can creep close to going a little over the top. Obviously Kubrick was going for that, but I wasnít so keen on it. It is a great performance by Cruise though, among his best.

The rest of the cast have little screen time with only Sydney Pollack and Todd Field given anything meaty to chew on. A very young looking Leelee Sobeski shows up in a nice little role and I also enjoyed Rade Serbedzija as her father a great deal.

The story of Eyes Wide Shut isnít a story in the conventional sense. Yes, the film follows characters as they go through certain events and later the film has a similar feel to a sort of suspense thriller. But for me the film was more like a journey, the journey of William Harford, a journey of his own sexual discovery.

You can take the catalyst for his journey a couple of ways. I saw it as either an attempt by William to understand his wifeís sexual fantasies and her need for them, or as an attempt at revenge on his part, an attempt to get back at her for having those thoughts. Thatís one of the things I love about this film, itís incredibly open to subjective understanding.

Another thing I love is that Dr Billís journey is almost dreamlike. Kubrickís glorious direction and the way things unfold give the journey many dream qualities. The way characters fleet in and out of his story, the frankly, strange occurrences at the costume shop and the grand indulgence of the manor house scene. Itís all very surreal. The music adds to the dreamlike feel, the jarring, stabbing piano is haunting and very effective, as is all the music in the film. Not least the gothic splendour of the music in the manor house.

If I had one major complaint it would be that the characters have a habit of answering other characters with what they have just said. For example, Alice would ask William where he was going and he would reply, ďWhere am I going?Ē. It happens all thorough the movie and gets to be a little annoying.

Eyes Wide Shut is without a doubt an adult film, but not only because of the graphic depiction of sex. Itís an adult film in so far as the themes and ideas that it explores. Coupled with fantastic performances from the leads and Kubrickís unparalleled attention to detail and visual style this is a film that is more than worthy of rounding of the great mans life and career.

 

/10.

See Eyes Wide Shut if you enjoyed Ė Mulholland Drive, Wild at Heart.

Poster Quote Ė Open Your Eyes.