Worth A Look: 16.72%
Just Average: 5.68%
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|Eyes Wide Shut
by Wendell Walker
There are artists who go unappreciated in their day and only win respect with the passage of time, and there are those whose work seems important at the time, but who history finally dismiss. Eyes Wide Shut is the final evidence that Stanley Kubrick will be one of the latter.Twenty-eight years living in the English countryside did Stanley Kubrick no good at all. From 2001 on, his esthetic strategies became more and more detached and he became more and more out of touch with life as it's lived on Planet Earth. As the decades drew on, it became more and more clear that his idea of good filmmaking was to compress and flatten the emotional and dramatic texture of the piece, and to micromanage the performances into a tightly constrained style that provides a wierd combination of an Olympian detachment and microscopic closeup.
"And the Oscar for Wanker of the Year goes to: Stanley Kubrick"
The problem is not that this is a "bad" style. When paired with the right subject matter it operates with a tension that can be truly unsettling (as it was with Clockwork's ultraviolence) or absolutely revelatory (as it was with the wonder of space travel in 2001). But sometimes it just doesn't work; it drained all the piss right out of The Shining, for example, and it was practically the whole show (and thus, the whole failure) in Barry Lyndon.
The problem is that Kubric never learned either to choose the right material for that approach, or to modulate it to suit the material, and with Eyes Wide Shut he drives it right off the cliff, bringing it to material that is both awkwardly melodramatic (sometimes operating at the level of a soap opera) and wildly anachronistic.
Simply as a story it should never have progressed past the pitch stage. Just for one example: Cruise's character wanders the sexual wilderness all right, and with some small justification. But he never really DOES anything, and not because he chooses not to, but because circumstances intervene (he's called away, the phone rings, he gets some bad news...). So why should we care?
The writing is iconic and vague, with sinister allusions to "these guys" and assertions that "you don't know what you're getting into" standing in for substantive information. Kubrick thinks he doesn't need conventional dramatic values, thinks his execution can raise the film above them, but the end result is just titters from the audience.
There is also a host of other problems that should just not be coming from a world-class filmmaker:
-- the contrast between the generous portions of female nudity and the virtual absence of male nudity is depressing in this day and age. An orgy with 90% of the men in robes and the women uniformly barebreasted and in G-strings? Come on...
-- who in New York would ever give a tinker's damn about an orgy like this? What a stupid idea for the lynchpin of the "thriller" plot: okay, maybe you want to bring the story up to date, but why do you have to set it in the Don't-Care capital of the world and then have the participants threatening Cruise over his knowledge of it?
-- similarly, why is it news, and such devastating news at that, to this guy that his wife has compelling sexual fantasies? And a doctor, to boot??!?
-- what's the deal with the grainy film? It looks like a home movie.
-- Tom Cruise CAN be directed into some compelling performances (see Born on the Fourth of July if you doubt it), but Kubrick lets him fall back on his handful of little Tom Cruise mannerisms, and when his big crying scene comes it comes without any justification in the foregoing.
-- Speaking of which, Cruise's crisis is COMPLETELY internal. He wanders the streets of New York falling into one sexual situation after another, but mooning about does not a study make, and the script fails to give him anything to project onto.
There IS some good news here. I honestly believed in the marriage of Cruise and Kidman, and their scenes ring wonderfully true. But the core of the film is not about them, it's about a solitary wanderer. Of course, it's shot with exquisite control. And the masks are cool.
But after 30+ years of pulling for Stanley Kubrick, of making excuses for him and trying ever so hard to find substance on a blank wall, I give up. It's pretty annoying that a demonstrably talented guy, given all the resources and freedom he needs, along with the good will of the entire film industry and a good portion of the public, can't do better than this.It's no slam at Hollywood that it backed a film like this, allowing Kubrick to dictate it ad nauseum. But it's pathetic to see the film geeks of the world working so hard to justify such a lame-ass piece of business as Eyes Wide Shut.
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originally posted: 07/26/99 20:17:26