Warner Bros. // 1999 // 159 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Margo Reasner (Retired) // May 3rd, 2000
If you're a movie lover then the mere mention of these three names in the same breath should make your heart beat a little faster. Does this erotic thriller live up to the excitement that these three names imply? Probably not quite. Does it deserve to be seen? If you're not offended by nudity and bizarre sexual situations then most assuredly, yes.
The story begins at the Harford home. The Harfords are in the process of getting ready to attend an upscale Christmas party at the home of one of Bill's clients. After they arrive at the party we quickly find out that Bill Harford (Tom Cruise -- Magnolia, Jerry Maguire, Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles) is a doctor when he notices that the piano player was one of his medical school contemporaries that didn't complete the program. While Bill is off conversing with the piano player Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman -- Practical Magic, The Peacemaker, Dead Calm) has a couple drinks and is then approached by a boldly admiring Hungarian. The two of them dance and play at flirting for awhile and then Alice notices that Bill has an attractive model-type woman on either side of him and appears to be flirting as well. Shortly thereafter Bill's presence is requested upstairs by the host of the party, Ziegler (Sydney Pollack -- best known as Producer/Director for films such as: Random Hearts, Sabrina, The Firm). When Bill arrives Ziegler is getting dressed and a naked woman who has taken too many narcotics is slumped in a chair. Bill determines that the woman will live and advises her to seek help for her addiction.
The next day Bill and Alice go about their normal routines; Bill goes to the office and meets with his patients and Alice gets dressed and cares for their child while wrapping Christmas presents. That evening they decide not to wrap more presents so Alice dips into her stash of marijuana and the two of them smoke a joint. When Alice gets feeling comfortable she asks Bill about the two women he was with at the party and why he disappeared for a while. Since Bill had promised Ziegler that he would keep the incident with the overdosed woman in confidence he is rather unconvincing in his explanation of his whereabouts to Alice. They begin discussing their relationship; Alice's fidelity in particular. Bill makes a statement about how he doesn't worry about Alice cheating on him and Alice breaks into hysterical laughter and admits that once she saw a man that she would have given up her current life for if he had been willing to sleep with her only once.
Immediately after hearing this news Bill gets a phone call that one of his patients has died and he leaves to visit their home. While there, the daughter of the deceased tells him that she is in love with him and makes serious advances. He manages to get out of the house when the woman's boyfriend shows up, but he is reeling from the events of the past couple of hours and he begins to aimlessly walk the streets of New York where he stumbles upon a mystery that he becomes more and more compulsively involved in.
Scattered throughout this film are scenes that could have been composed by no one other than Kubrick. The party scenes at Ziegler's have the same feel as the party scenes from The Shining. And the naked women that we see all have that Kubrick ideal of being slim with rounded breasts as they did in both The Shining and A Clockwork Orange. I was somewhat surprised to see that Nicole Kidman's form even fit the Kubrick mold of the ideal woman. Each scene is painstakingly perfect in both its composition and its use of rich colors. The story unfolds in a methodical manner and at a somewhat slow pace. The bizarreness of the story is made even more surreal by the placement of Christmas trees at nearly every location that suspiciously look like they were all decorated by the same person. And the mood is set distinctly by the music; when we are shown scenes of the Harford's normal life the music is almost circus-like, whereas single piano notes are used to convey suspense and discord as Bill Harford gets more deeply involved in the mystery.
The picture is presented in the full frame, unmatted format that Stanley Kubrick requested (as stated on the DVD cover and also at the beginning of the film). The colors are rich and vibrant and the clarity of the focus holds up well even if you zoom it to 1.85:1 aspect ratio on a widescreen setup to watch it as seen in the theaters. The Region 1 DVD has been digitally altered to allow for an R rating as it was in the theaters as well. (The Japanese Region 2 version is presented the way that Kubrick filmed the movie, uncensored.) I was lucky enough to see both versions of the digitally altered material and from a composition standpoint I did like the original better, but the altered version certainly still conveys the storyline in an adequate manner. For those interested I have included a link where you can see photos from both versions and download the unedited scene for a limited period of time. It does include sexually explicit material that you should avoid if such would offend you. The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with good separation. The extras include Cast and Crew Biographies for Cruise, Kidman, Pollack and Kubrick; very interesting interviews with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Steven Spielberg with topics including Kubrick's life and death as well as the making of the film; two TV spots and the theatrical trailer.
The first objection that a viewer might have with this film is the fact that just about everyone is shown with some portion of their clothes off at one point or another. For the optimists in the crowd you might view Alice using the toilet as an interesting experience while the pessimists out there might find this to have been irrelevant to the plot and pure exploitation. Much of the nudity in this film wasn't exactly essential to the plot, but it could be argued that it set up the atmosphere for the story. For example, having Bill imagine a half clad Alice rolling around on the bed with her dream lover once would have gotten the point across, but we are reminded many times over that this image is what is driving his bizarre behavior. And speaking of his behavior brings up another bone that a person could pick...Bill Harford is initially portrayed as a successful physician with a beautiful home and loving wife. It could be assumed that for a person to reach this level of success that they might have a smidge of common sense, but when Alice reveals that she thought about having sex with another man it throws Bill into such a state that he has no common sense whatsoever. For example, while walking from his deceased patient's home he is confronted by a group of young men who physically push him and threaten him. Does he hail a cab to go to his next location? No, instead he walks on and starts up a conversation with a hooker on the next street corner. It's difficult to relate to this behavior; no matter how many scenes of Alice you've seen rolling around naked on the bed. To Cruise's credit he pulls you through this stage of the storyline and once he becomes involved in the mystery it is so interesting that you no longer care how you came to find out about its existence.
The only other drawback to this film is that although the mystery is somewhat solved on a superficial level it still leaves you asking many questions about what happened. Even though the pace is slow and everything is clearly spelled out; what really happened is still pretty vague. And I'm left asking myself who had their Eyes Wide Shut? Was it the couple for believing that they could flirt and have a solid relationship? Was it Bill Harford for not seeing his wife for who she really was? Was it Bill Harford for not seeing the answer to the mystery that was right in front of him? Or is it the audience who watches everything but doesn't really understand what the point of the film was about? I'll let you be the judge of this...
Kubrick collectors will want to buy this one if only to complete their collection. Cruise fans will want to own this one as well as it shows a clear progression of the direction his acting has been taking. Kidman fans will also probably want to own this one. Everyone else who thinks that they might like it should give it a try.
Cruise and Kidman are totally acquitted. I really wish, however, that Kubrick had stuck to his guns and insisted that this movie be released as he first filmed it; even if it had received an X rating. And the Warner decision-makers who put the DVD out only in its censored form are hereby ordered to serve two weeks standing up to their chests in tapioca pudding. This will hopefully point out the difference between the brains that they presumably have inside their heads and the pudding that was between their ears on the day that they made the decision about the DVD content. "They did a bad, bad thing..."
Review content copyright © 2000 Margo Reasner; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 159 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Cast and Crew Biographies
* Interviews with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Steven Spielberg
* Two TV Spots
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site