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Eyes Wide Shut(1999)
Cruise plays Dr. William Harford, who plunges into an erotic foray that threatens his marriage — and may even ensnare him in a lurid murder mystery — after his wife’s (Kidman) admission of sexual longings. As the story sweeps from doubt and fear to self-discovery and reconciliation, Kubrick orchestrates it with masterful flourishes. Graceful tracking shots, controlled pacing, rich colors, startling images: bravura traits that make Kubrick a filmmaker for the ages are here to keep everyone’s eyes wide open.
For more about Eyes Wide Shut and the Eyes Wide Shut Blu-ray release, see Eyes Wide Shut Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 12, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Rade Šerbedžija, Todd Field
Director: Stanley Kubrick
» See full cast & crew
Eyes Wide Shut Blu-ray Review
Kubrick's final film may not be a masterpiece, but it's certainly more intriguing than it was initially given credit for being.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 12, 2010
Is there any way Eyes Wide Shut could have ever lived up to its hype? Here was a film directed by one of the most esteemed, if not the most esteemed, directors of the past half century, returning after well over a decade's absence, helming a project starring the most famous star couple in contemporary movie history. Add in the fact that the film was touted as being an "erotic thriller," and to say that audiences were titillated by immense expectations is probably an understatement. And yet when the film finally opened, you could hear the collective "thud" of millions of jaws dropping, either in disbelief, or yawning boredom, or indeed both. Eyes Wide Shut was a resolutely non-sexy film, despite rather graphic orgiastic scenes (more graphic in the unrated version presented on this Blu-ray). In fact, for all their surface beauty and charisma, the supposed "sexual" chemistry between stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman was virtually nonexistent. Have there ever been two more asexual major stars in recent film history? These are actors of sometimes prodigious accomplishment, but they are curiously nonerotic in their own peculiar way, almost like living Ken and Barbie dolls: physically perfect, but absolutely devoid of any "naughty bits." And yet my hunch is this was actually part of director Stanley Kubrick's genius in casting the famous pair. For Eyes Wide Shut, despite its supposed lasciviousness, is actually an almost Puritan reflection on the rigors of monogamy and the wages of sin, which in this case are an almost interminable trip through the vagaries of guilt and torment.
It's almost comical to go back and look at critical assessment of Kubrick's post-Strangelove oeuvre as it appeared contemporaneously with each film. If there is anything that might have foreshadowed the public and reviewing reactions to Eyes Wide Shut, it is the long tradition of audiences of all types never quite getting Kubrick's ideas and techniques on the first, or even the fifth, go-round. A perfect example comes from a rather unusual paperback tome that appeared shortly after 2001 came out and was greeted by such universal (no pun intended) consternation. This was the wonderful Making of Kubrick's '2001' which contained Arthur C. Clarke's original short story, as well as hundreds of pages of explication as to what exactly Kubrick and Clarke were getting at in the famous film. The book in and of itself was a rather remarkable publication, especially in terms of late 1960's filmgoing, one which by its very existence proves the somewhat obtuse reactions Kubrick's films provoke in their audiences. In any case, I well remember the kind of acerbic joy with which Making of pointed out the slowly morphing reaction from just one reviewer (as I recall, either from Time or Life magazine). The reviewer's premiere week review eviscerated the science fiction masterpiece, railing against its incomprehensible plot and its over the top visuals. Within about six weeks of slowly changing perceptions, that same reviewer was hailing the film as one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century.
I seriously doubt if Eyes Wide Shut will ever experience such a radical revisionism in its critical assessment, and yet, like most Kubrick efforts, there's so much going on beneath the surface, and at such an often subliminal level, that I frankly wouldn't be too surprised if the film ultimately is hailed as at least a minor masterpiece, at least in terms of its laboriously crafted surreal and dreamlike ambience. There's not much to the plot of Eyes Wide Shut. We get a perhaps disintegrating marriage between an uptight Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Kidman). They are both given opportunities for extra-marital dalliances at a Christmas party of a colleague named Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), which they both decline. Later, however, Alice lets it slip that she's at least considered having an affair, a confession which sends Bill on a nightmarish trip through an evening of what may, in fact, be an actual dream journey with everyone from a drugged out prostitute to an upscale orgy filled with masked and caped characters redolent of a Venetian carnival.
What exactly though is Kubrick trying to say with this odd and unsettling piece? On the surface we're getting a cold, almost clinical, analysis of an equally cold, passionless marriage. In that regard, the casting of Cruise and Kidman is absolutely perfect. Whether or not they're acting, or were simply indicating the then current state of their about to be dissolved marriage, there is no spark, no electricity, nothing there other than two perfect faces staring at each other in blank bleakness. But after the cracks are shown to be widening, what is the point of the long (too long, many argued), surreal journey that the Cruise character then undertakes? Is this Bill Harford's personal Dante-esque trip through the Inferno and Purgatory? Or is it simply the delusional ravings of a subconscious so straitlaced that its Id is virtually bursting at the seams? Kubrick of course is as recondite as he usually is and gives no easy answers, but there are clues dropped along the way, not the least of which is the nonstop use of patently "fake" studio sets to portray the teeming midnight streets of New York City. This is a film which glories in its own artifice, in a way quite reminiscent of such Hitchcock masterpieces as The Birds, a film which shares Eyes' growing sense of menace, but also its patently false patina, somehow making the horror more visceral (obviously more physically—as opposed to psychologically—manifest in the case of The Birds than Eyes Wide Shut).
This is, as most Kubrick efforts since 2001, a slow moving, often outright lugubrious, film. And yet that very slowness is what helps give Eyes Wide Shut its dreamlike quality, a quality that nags incessantly, fraying the edges of Harford's supposedly perfect existence. His interactions with a variety of unseemly characters can be both touching (as in the scenes with Leelee Sobieski's doomed prostitute), perhaps ironically amusing (was Kubrick gently chiding Cruise when he has three street thugs accuse Harford of being gay?), or just downright weird, as in the infamous orgy scene. Through it all, though, there's the quiet mastery of Kubrick carefully (perhaps obsessively) crafting shots which are perfectly framed and often captivatingly shot, lending a certain glamour to subject matter that could be deemed prurient.
And so I return to my central question. Could any film have ever lived up to the hype that accompanied the long gestation of Eyes Wide Shut? I doubt it. But there is more than meets the eye here (shut or open, as it were), as is so often the case in Kubrick films. Cruise and Kidman are perfect mannequins here, moving through their paces in an almost zombie like trance, but that has to be part of Kubrick's point, doesn't it? Is this some mad, darkly comic comment on what ten years of marriage can do to a couple? Perhaps. But there's something deeper here, as well, a kind of caustic commentary on lives filled with things but still achingly, desperately empty. Kubrick was always a brilliant sociologist, and while Eyes Wide Shut may not be an easy portrait of American society to handle, it's one which is full of detail and many thought provoking ideas. Eyes Wide Shut is far from a perfect film, but I think time will be kinder to it than recent history may indicate. It's a uniquely spellbinding trip through the portals of psychology and sexuality, and has the unmistakable imprint of one of the greatest masters of contemporary film, Stanley Kubrick.
Eyes Wide Shut Blu-ray, Video Quality
Kubrick is exploring a dark subject matter to be sure in Eyes Wide Shut, and that may have influenced the incessantly shadowy look of the film. Unfortunately the visual quality of this 1080p VC-1 encoded Blu-ray is too drenched in a soft presentation, with inconsistent black levels, to ever rise to the level of what most high def aficionados expect. That said, there really isn't much source material to work with in the first place. The best scenes in the film are the opening, lighter ones, where the palette is diverse and very well saturated. Once we get into the laborious trek of Harford through a night's worth of increasingly tormented visions, the film is bleak, desaturated, and overly grainy quite a bit of the time. Detail can still be exceptional, especially in close-ups, where faces are briskly clear and well defined, but the overall look of this film too often disintegrates into a sort of mushy blandness, with washed out fuzziness being the norm, at least for the central episodes of the film.
Eyes Wide Shut Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Likewise, there's very little source material to support the uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix. This is one of the most resolutely non-immersive tracks in recent memory, with surround effects you can basically count on the fingers of one hand. Even the opening party scene is weirdly anchored in the front channels, and only very occasionally do either music or foley effects ever penetrate the rear or side surround channels. All of that said, dialogue is clear and directional, and the score, consistent in the best Kubrick tradition of both classical pieces and standards, is well mixed into the proceedings. Fidelity is excellent, with good dynamic range and no distortion or other problems to report.
Eyes Wide Shut Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Several good to excellent extras are included in this release:
Eyes Wide Shut Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It may be too soon for a major critical reassessment of this controversial film, but my sense is Eyes Wide Shut is ultimately going to follow in the footsteps of Kubrick's other initially misunderstood pieces and gain appreciation. Weirdly cold while attempting to deal with sexuality and obsession, this is a film which slowly but surely claws its way into the subconcious, weaving a hypnotic spell which will leave a lot of people feeling more than a bit unsettled. If you haven't seen it before, give it a shot now. If it's been a while since you have seen it, revisit it at least another time or two. It's a film with enough depth and nuance to reward repeated viewings.
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