Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1999: Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut

Tom Cruise did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. William "Bill" Harford in Eyes Wide Shut.

Eyes Wide Shut is Stanley Kubrick's final film around a man's odyssey after his wife confesses lecherous thoughts to him.  

The pairing of Stanley Kubrick and Tom Cruise from the outset doesn't sound like an ideal pairing. This is with Kubrick often being almost a "prop master" in his use of actors to serve an extremely specific purpose, against Tom Cruise who one can almost say is an auteur actor, in that a Tom Cruise vehicle usually means a specific thing and image. Now to be fair, until his most recent decade, Cruise seemed to attempt to pepper in non-commercial challenges within his overarching famed career of  being a matinee performer. The thing is though Cruise's forays into the non-commercial usually were driven by turns from him that are forceful Cruise turns, showing a different side of his ability, however typically using his known strengths in a way to further his range, like in the same year in Magnolia, later in Collateral, or even in Tropic Thunder. In this film though, Cruise plays our "average man", which one could almost say is a mistake in a sexually charged film that is this. In that Cruise is an actor who doesn't have an innate sexuality onscreen. This is not a commentary on any rumors or the like regarding Cruise,there are many actors without this quality, but in terms of his natural screen presence is that of asexuality. This as the love story rarely is the focal points of any successful Cruise film, not that it is an extreme void, but it isn't what defines Cruise as a performer.

This again all adds up to a strange combination in Tom Cruise in a Stanley Kubrick film, as Tom Cruise in incapable of simply being a man, his own screen presence is too strong for that, being far more ideal for early Kubrick, and for a film about sex, you have Cruise who is not say an early Brando in that regard. I mean then again, perhaps that was all in the grand scheme of Kubrick, who is an infallible genius...to some...who believe he made every decision with such meticulous purpose, even when it seemed like a bad decision. We have that possible here with Cruise who is not an expected choice to see wandering the streets of NY looking for sexual answers. Although then again it does offer that later day Kubrick clinical quality he seemed to love so much, as the film is not particularly raw for being about the base human need. It is instead particularly one can examine when you have Cruise seemingly more a curious observer himself than a man dealing with lusts of every kind. A curiosity then is what the film becomes, as does Bill's journey where he finds himself in strange situations, creepy costume owners, orgies, prostitutes, drug overdoses, sexual fantasies, however in each of these, well except maybe the drug overdose, Bill is but an observer. This in only further emphasized in Cruise's performance which keeps a distance from that material almost at all times. This maintaining that late Kubrickian detachment, intentional perhaps, but the right decision, well that's a different question.

The film itself was made in part as the starring pairing of the then married couple of Nicole Kidman and Cruise, which I would imagine didn't help matters there, but I won't speculate too much. Their interactions are limited however, with the fissure developing between the married couple in the film early on, that propels Bill on his strange journey. Kidman quite frankly is a performer who seems more ideal Kubrick, where Cruise would've perhaps been better served back in the mindset of Kubrick when he was working with Kirk Douglas. This as in their scenes together Kidman stands out more in working within the style of Kubrick, where Cruise does seem a bit lost, although that serves his very lost character. I will say the actual performance that there is beyond looking around looking confused, or looking slightly lustful, are not at all poorly performed by Cruise. The extent of this though is always curiously limited, as the man always keeps himself from going the next step, and in turn we keep Cruise at that distance. There are the two more major moments of interacting with Kidman, first in hearing her confession then making his own. In both Cruise does capture the emotional distress of the situation. The rest of the film Cruise is within that limitation, to the point that even when he is learning about strange things, and eventually finding possible answers, Bill still is the quiet observer. The quiet observer that Cruise doesn't portray poorly by any measure, in that he captures enough of a reality to the strange situations, and anxiety in each moment. It is not a bad performance, even if the character doesn't seem at all ideal for Cruise's strengths as a performer. This may have been intentional as those who view Kubrick as infallible would likely say. This as Cruise could be seen himself placed in situations alien to the performer, reacting with the same distance, as Bill as an alien to his life situations, keeping the same distance. This as neither man takes that next step, neither Cruise fully exiting his comfort zone by going that next step of raw sexuality on screen, nor Bill breaking out of his faithfulness towards his wife. I will however, always contest that casting the charisma absent Ryan O'Neal was a fundamental mistake of Barry Lyndon therefore will not accept the Kubrick as infallible view. This while I don't think Cruise's casting is as detrimental to the character, I too have a difficulty finding that I cannot see a better path with a performer more ideal for the material, the character and indeed the director.

14 comments:

Matt Mustin said...

Yeah, I disagree with this completely, I thought he was amazing.

Matt Mustin said...

I felt the point of the movie was that we were meant to be kind of detached from it all (there's a reason there was never any pleasure portrayed in any of the sex acts in this film), so I thought the sort of coldness he brought to it worked.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I’m going to reiterate my previous stance that Barry Lyndon is great because O’Neal is a blank slate and the movie wouldn’t have worked if Barry wasn’t. It’s an inherently ironic story about an empty man who keeps blundering into fortune. The only time he shows genuine personality was with his son, and once he’s gone it’s back to being an empty shell. Yes, he’s a living prop for the most part. But he’s a well-utilized living prop.

(Also, Modine in Full Metal Jacket is worse.)

Bryan L. said...

Ooh I did not see this one coming. I did have the feeling though, that you were going to take more to Kidman.

Thoughts on her and the rest of the cast, Louis?

Matt Mustin said...

Something you pointed out here though, that I never really thought about, is that Tom Cruise does indeed have a distinctly asexual screen presence, which is very odd considering how famously handsome he is.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

I finally saw The Irishman today. It's a tremendous accomplishment, and it's my #2 of the year, and my fifth favorite Scorsese film.

My ratings:
De Niro- 5 (he's incredible here, and he is not getting enough credit to be honest).
Pacino-5 (He's my MVP, and my #1 in supporting now)
Pesci- 5 (Not far behind Pacino for me)
Romano- 3.5
Keitel- 3
Graham- 4
Paquin- 3
Canavale- 3.5

Michael McCarthy said...

I saw Queen & Slim year earlier tonight and liked it quite a bit. Kaluuya was terrific, I’ll have to think a bit more about Turner-Smith.

Calvin Law said...

I assume the Golden God for a 2010s version directed by David Cronenberg?

Louis Morgan said...

Bryan:

Pollock - 3.5(Pollock always seems to plays a certain role as sort of a very blunt man, that completely works every time. This once again in a way by portraying the part without a hint of pretense as he just bluntly spells out what happened, or at least claims to. Pollock though is effective by being so the point against what it is that he is talking about.)

Kidman - 4.5(I found her more often intriguing her, in that even though her character is more the mystery as written her performance allows her one to pull within into the mindset of the role. This doing so much in her moments of even just the quiet introspection that grants the weight of the straying thoughts and questions, and then naturally explodes in the key moments. Her performance excels within the confines of the film's style and the character.)

Calvin:

I believe that is an amazing It's always Sunny episode that should be made, which occurs after Dennis suffers separate entirely himself. Although I could see it in a serious sense.

Lucas Saavedra said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the always sunny season 14 episodes apart from the premiere?

Lucas Saavedra said...

Louis: who do you think would have been a better fit for the character instead of Cruise?

Louis Morgan said...

Lucas:

Covered the other episodes before.

Sunny Noir I enjoyed a great deal, for the noir spoof but also the Sin City style that went with it. Great episode.

Global Warming and Jumper, both had some funny bit, like algorithm talk in the latter, but neither quite came together fully for me. They were both kind of in search of an episode like other weak episodes of Sunny.

Still need to watch the last two.

Harder if one would want to maintain the married couple, as I would want to keep Kidman, however without trying to replicate the former element, Johnny Depp, James Spader, Gary Oldman, Viggo Mortensen maybe even Sean Penn if Kubrick got in the way of him hamming it up.

Channing Tatum said...

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