Alice (Nicole Kidman of Birth) and Dr. William Harford (Tom Cruise of Jack Reacher) are a moderately wealthy couple living in Manhattan (or what barely passes for same). After an argument, a high-on-grass Alice confesses to Bill that she saw a military man while they were on vacation and had such intense sexual fantasies about him that she felt she could have walked away from Bill, their young daughter, and her whole life to be with this man. Bill can't get this out of his mind, and the next night he has a series of misadventures. Marion (Marie Richardson), the daughter of a dead elderly patient, tells him shes in love with him despite barely knowing him; some morons who think he's gay taunt him with homophobic slurs in Greenwich Village; he nearly sleeps with a hooker named Domino (Vinessa [sic] Shaw); and he re-encounters an old college friend who has become a musician. This friend, Nick (Todd Field), tells him of a mysterious series of parties he goes to where he plays the piano but isn't allowed to take off his mask. Intrigued, Bill rents a costume and goes off by taxi to an isolated estate where he discovers an elegant orgy where (generally) the women are naked, the men are clothed, and everyone wears a mask. Paranoia sets in when his deception is discovered and he is warned that powerful people will enact vengeance if he dares utter a word about what he's seen ...
Stanley Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut got a very mixed reception when it was released. I can't argue with all of the criticisms about it -- that it's slow at times, that it seems a bit stodgy for the nineties, that the orgy scenes are almost silly, and that it hardly develops into an intense thriller (which may not have been what Kubrick was after in the first place) -- and there has been pretentious overpraise for a picture that would hardly classify as a masterpiece. It also pretty much pushes aside any moral complexities for a one word quick-joke finale. However, I have seen Eves Wide Shut three or four times by now, and each time I find the nearly three-hour film completely absorbing and suspenseful. Admittedly, the sequence when Bill goes to buy a costume from a creepy man with a nubile daughter goes on too long, and there are others. One critic declared the picture an "old man's movie," probably because the orgies aren't that energetic and have no pounding rock soundtrack -- and Kubrick may have missed a lot of things he could have done with this film -- but this criticism misses the point that these parties are meant to be "classy" and ritualistic. Whether even the rich and famous would be bothered with secret sex societies is besides the point -- no married Senator, for instance, would want it getting out that he belonged to one.
The direction and the performances help a lot, with Cruise being more than adequate, and his then-wife Kidman out-acting him most of the time. Sydney Pollack, who directed Cruise in the mediocre The Firm, perhaps proves a better actor [Husbands and Wives] than director in his role of Victor Ziegler, a wealthy man who gets help from Bill and provides counsel in return. The other roles are well cast, including Alan Cumming as a helpful hotel clerk who is obviously smitten with Bill. Although this scene got some criticism when the film first came out, Cumming at least makes the character likably goofy. The score consists of classical music along with some really cheap if sinister piano riffs. Filmed on sets, you never get a sense that this is taking place in New York City. The film is based on a novel that took place in Vienna.
Verdict: There are many, many things wrong with this movie, but I still find it visually and dramatically compelling. ***.