Only a director like the late, great Stanley Kubrick could make an erotic thriller that's more likely to creep out audiences than titillate them.
Oh, that doesn't mean that his final film, the haunting and disturbing "Eyes Wide Shut," isn't as explicit as had been rumored. In fact, it features copious female nudity and some of the most graphic depictions of on-screen, simulated sex than have ever been shown in an R-rated film. (And it only received an R after a series of already-infamous, digitally created "alterations" that were suggested by the studio and the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board.)
So needless to say, those unable (or unwilling) to take this assault on their senses and minds should probably just avoid the film altogether. However, those who are willing to chance it will be re-warded for their efforts because this isn't just exploitative nonsense.
Instead, there's an actual attempt at storytelling, and a pretty successful one at that. But that's not too surprising considering it comes from someone like Kubrick, who never made a movie that wasn't worth watching.
What is surprising is that a pair of stars like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman chose to spend at least two years of their careers to be in it. And make no mistake, starring in work that's already as controversial as this is a bold, risky move yet one that has also inspired career-highlight performances.
Inspired by Arthur Schnitzler's decadent novel, "Traumnovelle," the film follows a married couple, Bill and Alice Harford (Cruise and Kidman), whose lives are changed by sexual temptation.
In an unguarded moment, Alice admits that she has entertained fantasies about another man, which bothers her husband more than she realizes. Though he acts unaffected by the revelation, Bill soon embarks on a quest of sexual revenge.
But his efforts in that regard are unsuccessful. Worse, they become dangerous, especially his unwanted presence at what appears to be a masked ball that turns into a ritualistic orgy a mistake that haunts him afterward.
Admittedly, the premise is bizarre, even preposterous. But it's not one that Kubrick (who co-wrote the screenplay) takes too seriously. In fact, it may not seem like it on the surface, but the film is laden with concealed sight gags that many may not notice.
Also, the film was shot on an ultra-grainy stock that may be off-putting to some viewers but which gives it a nightmarish quality that's entirely in keeping with the surreal tone of the piece.
Speaking of surreal, Kubrick beautifully integrates classical and popular music into the score, such as excerpts from Gyorgy Ligeti's "Musica Ricercata, II," Dmitri Shostakovich's elegant "Waltz 2" and Chris Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing," all of which are used effectively for mood.
And though the movie does falter a bit near the end in particular, the resolution seems a bit hasty and even ill-considered it's so gripping up to that point that it can't be undone by a minor storytelling stumble.
Cruise and Kidman give such strong performances you can't take you eyes off them. And the supporting cast is well-chosen (including filmmaker Sidney Pollack, who has a small but pivotal role).
"Eyes Wide Shut" is rated R for considerable full female nudity and some brief male partial nudity; extremely graphic, simulated sex; profanity, simulated drug use (marijuana), vulgar slang terms and a brief scene of violence (shoving).