Forgotten Classic: ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ & ’25th Hour’

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Stanley Kubrick’s final film was savaged by critics and ignored by audiences upon it’s 1999 release. Some have accused it of being nothing more than soft pornography and the career low of a great artist, but like any complex masterpiece, it’s difficult to appreciate after only one viewing and if ever a film deserved a second look, it’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

This tale of Bill, a New York doctor (Tom Cruise) and his night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery after his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) admits to an old affair is a brilliant study of the lives of the nouveau rich and the psychological games we play with our partners and loved ones.

Kubrick paints a world few of us get to see: an elitist paradise full of beautiful people, exclusive parties and Masonic incitations, where behind the beauty lies a shallow façade of jealousy and sexual deviation. The decision to cast the then married pair of Cruise and Kidman is inspired. Kubrick toys with their public personae, and although they are playing roles, he knows that the audience will wonder how much of their individual and collective performance is them, and how much is fictional.

Kidman is harsh, beautiful and suitably vacuous, but it is Tom Cruise that transpires to be the film’s real revelation. His character Bill is tortured, curious and confused, a man who has worn a mask for so long he is unsure of just who he is underneath. If anyone wants evidence that Tom has the actor’s gift, this, for me, proves it beyond doubt. He carries the film from beginning to end with a bravery and self awareness which he continually demonstrates, but rarely gets credit for.

As for Stanley himself, I think it’s criminal that some believe his legacy was tarnished by this parting shot. If you were one of those who saw Eyes Wide Shut once and instantly slated it, I implore you to dig out the DVD and give it another go.

25th Hour (2002)

Hopefully I’m preaching to the converted and you managed to catch 25th Hour, Spike Lee’s superior 2002 study of a convicted drug dealer’s last day before he faces a seven year jail sentence. However, when I bring this film up amongst friends and associates, few of them have even heard of it, let alone seen it.

Lee arguably returned to form with this superb story of friendship, regret and inevitability, after a number of years of relative obscurity. Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman are on form as the two morally ambiguous friends, intent on ensuring their childhood buddy Monty (Edward Norton) enjoys his last day of freedom, despite his reluctance to celebrate the occasion.

At the time of its release, some critics’ noses were put out of joint due to the script portraying heroin dealer Monty as a sympathetic character, someone the audience is supposed to like and identify with, despite that fact that he openly peddles a product which ruins – and sometimes ends – lives.

Monty disassociated himself from any harm his business might have caused, and it’s only when he has been caught and has time to reflect that he faces up to reality. Monty is revealed as just another imperfect, fault-ridden human being, and his “every man” persona makes him a rounded character with depth, rather than simply a cardboard cut out criminal.

Rosario Dawson as Monty’s girlfriend Naturelle does her job and Anna Paquin is sparkling and seductive as the pupil flirting with her teacher (Hoffman), but it’s Brian Cox that shines the brightest as Monty’s Irish father who takes him on his final journey to jail (or does he?)…

I have always been a fan of Spike Lee. His films, although patchy and overly hyperreal in places, are always enjoyable to watch and I’m regularly digging out my copies of Do the Right Thing (1989) and Jungle Fever (1991).

In my opinion, 25th Hour is certainly up there with his very best, and even if you haven’t dug his previous efforts, I am certain you will enjoy this simple story, beautifully played out.

Lee Cassanell