Stanley Kubrick’s last film opens with an affluent married couple – Tom Cruise, a doctor, and his wife, Nicole Kidman – at a Christmas Party, during which he flirts with two models (and later revives the host’s prostitute girlfriend, who has overdosed) . Meanwhile, Kidman gets tipsy in the hands of a mysterious foreigner who does his damndest to get her away for a quickie. The experience leads to a later conversation, during which Kidman gets stoned and cruelly informs Cruise that she once was so overcome by desire for a stranger that she would have given away everything – husband, child, life – to be with the man. Cruise is destabilized. Stunned, he walks the streets of New York, bouncing from sexual odyssey to sexual odyssey.
Kubrick had no business making a film about modern sexual issues. Having read a “Vanity Fair” piece on Kubrick shortly after his death, his disconnection with his subject matter is no mystery. He appeared to have been a semi-recluse with no social skills, much less any romantic experience. I was reminded of the incongruity of presumably celibate Catholic priests who advise young parishioners on marital issues. Including sex.
Cruise and Kidman are like some 1950s couple dressed in 90s clothes. After his wife’s revelation, Cruise is menaced by the recurring image of her being ravished by the stranger, as if a wife sharing her fantasy with her husband is some great cataclysm. Yet, Cruise is strangely immune to the manner in which Kidman mocks and taunts him with her fantasy. Her cold and unloving manner – she roils on the floor pointing at Cruise, doing her level best to castrate him with her secret – appears to be no problem for Cruise. Rather, it is the image of someone sleeping with his wife that drives him batty. As for Kidman, she’s just mean and icy.
Then there is the plot, which is non-existent, thus making for a droning, tedious ride. Cruise does his best with what he’s given, and he is particularly effective early, when he performs the minuet of explaining to his wife why he would never bed the two models. She summarily shreds his rationale. Kidman, however, is consistently awful throughout, forced to play drunk at the party, stoned during her humiliation of Cruise, and then, in a completely over-the-top bit, frightened by a sexual dream she experienced. She hits all the wrong chords, her drunk being sloppy, her stoner being vicious, and her post-dream persona annoyingly overwrought. This is a performance ruined by bad choices.
Kubrick’s other forays into the pastiche of modern sexuality are laughable. The man who would get Kidman away for a tryst at the Christmas Party is an unintentionally hilarious Hungarian. Any minute, you expect him to say, “I vant to suck your blood.” Prostitutes who entice Cruise from NYC streets are Kate Moss hot, with hearts of gold to boot. The famed orgy scene is chortle inducing (everyone wears goofy yet frightening masks). I’ve seen more effective soft core on late night Showtime.
“ARE THERE ANY SNACKS AT THIS ORGY?”
If you were not inclined to laugh at certain parts, the film is accompanied by perhaps the most distracting soundtrack ever scored – a single note piano plinking that can destroy even the most stoic.
Visually, Kubrick is painfully reliant on one trick in his bag – an endlessly repetitive floating tracking shot. On the plus side, he does make a passable New York City out of London. But this was a bad way to go out.