By Rob Blackwelder
Despite all the tongue-wagging about philandering shrinksand other rumor mill jazz, "Eyes Wide Shut" turns out to notbe entirely about sex after all.
Instead its something even more shocking by Hollywood standards-- a complex and intimate study of a couple surviving a very big bump intheir marriage.
There is sex. Plenty of it. But more frequently there'salmost sex and fantasy sex when a small marital spat between a rich,handsome couple of nine years escalates into a confession that begets adownward spiral jealousy, obsession and, most of all, temptation.
Dr. Bill Hartford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (NicoleKidman) are both beautiful, inherently sexy people, so temptation is nothingnew to them. This is established early on at a black tie party where twodelicious vixen models proposition Bill in tandem. With one of them oneach arm and his charm turned up full-blast, he's being lead upstairs whenhe's called away to a medical emergency. But the question lingers in theair: Would he have done it?
Meanwhile, Alice has had a little too much champagne andis dancing and flirting madly with -- scratch that, she's teasing-- a seductive, falsely sophisticated, let- me- take- you- away- from-all- this type Hungarian Lothario. She snaps out of it and remembers herselfjust as he's about to kiss her.
The next night buried feelings from seeing each other temptedat the party turn a tender and steamy bedtime scene into an argument thatshakes the foundation of their marriage.
"You wanted to f**k those models," Alice spitsangrily at her husband. He says he wouldn't have, and that he would trusther if the situation was reversed. Then she confesses a deeply buried fantasyabout another man, concluding that "I would have left for one nightwith him."
Why does she do this? To prove a point to her husband aboutwomen's sexual desires? To rattle his confidence in his hold on her? Whateverthe motivation, Bill suddenly goes from zero to 60 in about three seconds.He's consumed with jealousy.
But another medical emergency interrupts their conversation,leaving him seething green as he wanders Manhattan into the wee hours ofthe morning, envisioning his wife's fantasy infidelity and finding himselftested more than Job.
The mourning daughter of dead patient throws herself athim. A shop owner offers him a night with his teenage daughter (LeeleeSobieski) for a handful of cash. A fresh-faced, young hooker (Vinessa Shaw)propositions him and he finds himself sitting on her bed, unknotting histie before he thinks the better of it.
When he does get home, Alice wakes up and confesses shewas dreaming about her fantasy man again, making matters worse.
Stanley Kubrick's infamously obsessive-compulsive directionpays off with Cruise and Kidman, inspiring fully-fleshed and manifold performancesfrom his stars.
Cruise's character isn't nearly as comfortable with himselfas he tries to put across. He is often at a loss for words and has a habitof flashing his medical license, which he keeps in his wallet, like a badgewhen he trying to convince strangers of his sincerity on any topic -- asif he's saying, "Trust me, I'm a doctor."
He has very human flaws when it comes to temptation, andhe visibly, physically struggles in resisting the beautiful, easy womenput in his path.
Kidman's role as the wife is smaller but even more complex,and she proves here, once again, that she's a much better actress thanshe gets credit for. Her feelings of infidelity stem from her imagination,but they still weave a web of guilt and jealousy in her own mind.
Cruise and Kidman must have plumbed the depths of theirown relationship and their own true emotions to get at the heart of thiscouple's crisis. It feels so authentic one can't help but wonder if theeffects linger in their real lives.
But while this absorbing story about a successful marriagemanages to also be erotic, torrid and zealous, one of the few notable flawsin the movie is its most pivotal, controversial and sexual scene -- a graphicorgy (toned down slightly for an R rating) at which Bill is enticed, seducedand bodily threatened, in an attempt to add a thriller element to the film.
Overflowing with nude models in porcelain masks strikingsilly poses and mysterious men in Druid cloaks looking like something outof a cheap sci-fi movie, the scene is not only absurd and lacking the tensionit's intended to have (the chorus-of-monks incidental music doesn't helpeither) -- but after a while it's downright laughable, like a Playboy Channelcult film.
Regardless of the failure of that important scene, aftera four-decade career of groundbreaking genius, this final film from Kubrickis his most intimate and emotionally provoking. Directed with such precisionthat just a shot of Cruise walking down the street the night of the fightis exploding with tension, and every moment we share with Kidman and Cruisetogether feels deeply personal and voyeuristic. Its no coincidence Kubrickcast a famous married couple in the roles -- it aides that sense of voyeurismas the movie explores how the mind and the heart are connected.
Run time: 159 mins
In Theaters: Friday 16th July 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $162.1M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Hobby Films, Pole Star
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Fresh: 97 Rotten: 28
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Tom Cruise as Dr. William 'Bill' Harford, Nicole Kidman as Alice Harford, Madison Eginton as Helena Harford, Jackie Sawiris as Roz, Sydney Pollack as Victor Ziegler, Leslie Lowe as Illona Ziegler, Peter Benson as Bandleader, Todd Field as Nick Nightingale, Michael Doven as Ziegler's Secretary, Sky du Mont as Sandor Szavost, Julienne Davis as Amanda 'Mandy' Curran, Marie Richardson as Marion Nathanson, Vinessa Shaw as Domino, Leelee Sobieski as Milich's Daughter, Alan Cumming as Desk Clerk
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