First Sight: Eyes Wide Shut - A compelling triumph for Kubrick, Cruise and Kidman

STANLEY KUBRICK'S over-hyped swan-song came over here yesterday - albeit briefly.

In advance of the UK opening in September, Warner Brothers rushed out a press screening, angered that Internet buffs in America were already giving away the plot.

They were angry too with US censors for outlawing a 65-second group-sex sequence with the result that it was "digitally amended". A Warner executive stood in front of critics before the screening to denounce the amended sequence as "looking ridiculous". Could an audience's appetite be further whetted? Apparently yes. Even before the title sequence, Nicole Kidman disrobed.

Kidman has spoken about the film's "voyeurism" and one wondered if Kubrick's lingering shots of her in the opening minutes would have him joining the ranks of menopausal male critics who became so excited by her on-stage nudity in London last year. It proved an unworthy suspicion. Kubrick's last film is a fitting end to his career: a charged erotic thriller, funny, suspenseful, disturbing, provocative and utterly compelling.

Cruise and Kidman play a New York doctor and wife. When she confesses to him a fantasy she had for a stranger, he is provoked - rather too easily it must be said - into indulging and exploring his own fantasies, visiting a prostitute and later a masked party where the 65-second multi-position sex scene takes place.

The film might have been stronger if Cruise and Kidman continued to explore their fear of sexual fantasy and obsessions against the humdrum of their lives, as the first half hour of the film does. Even with Frederic Raphael's taut script, the party sequence departs rapidly from reality.

But the director of The Shining and A Clockwork Orange can combine fantasy and reality, eroticism anddeviancy without losing his audience. This is the case here, though it is a great pity that, in contrast to the hype, Kidman's role is so small.

Long appreciated in Britain as a fine actress, she is excellent in the first scenes where she is drunk and overtly flirtatious at a party, followed by her dark dreams of infidelity and her inability to come to terms with them. Cruise, who is plagued by constant visions of his wife having sex with the stranger, has less range of expression. Yet the film is his. Rarely off screen, he cannot quite engage an audience or suggest mental and emotional trauma as well as his co-star.

The couple said this week that doing the film had made them talk about their own marriage and face some of its problems. Heaven help them if they ever do Macbeth.

It is better to forget the marketing and enjoy a first-rate, sexual thriller, full of menace, right up to the last suggestion of Kidman to Cruise on how they can find a cathartic solution to their problem: a final four-letter word - the last word ever in a Kubrick film.

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