Monday, August 20, 2007

The Sacrificing of Nicole Kidman

Upon the release of Lars Von Trier's audacious and brilliant DOGVILLE (2003), an exhausted Nicole Kidman decided to drop out of its follow up films and explore some lighter projects. After completing work on the emotionally draining BIRTH (2004) in which she gave possibly her greatest performance, Kidman signed on to two films that promised to be less stressful but hopefully still artistically rewarding.
Nicole Kidman has always been a fearless actress. You can see that in her very earliest work for Australian tv in the eighties, specifically with her turn in the mini-series VIETNAM (1987) but she has also always kept her eye on commercial projects. Between the period between her break though role in Gus Van Sant's TO DIE FOR (1995) and BIRTH she handled this shuffling between overtly mainstream roles and smaller independent productions incredibly well. Whether you are a fan or not, it is hard to deny that Kidman was one of the bravest stars of her generation and her best work shows a complicated actress capable of a deep range and an astonishing spiritual center.
She seemed invincible for a period of about five years after surviving one of Stanley Kubricks most draining, and in my eyes one of his greatest, films EYES WIDE SHUT (1999). She finally won an Oscar for her portrayal of Virgina Woolf in THE HOURS (2002) although personally I would have given it to her for THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY (1996) or THE OTHERS (2001) first. After THE HOURS she could rightly be called one of the most respected and greatest actresses in the world but things suddenly begin to slip for her.
David Fincher's PANIC ROOM (2002) seemed to be the first sign something was wrong. Kidman sustained a bad injury on the set and had to be replaced by an eager and able Jodie Foster. She then unexpectedly dropped out of Jane Campion's fierce IN THE CUT (2003), a film that she did end up producing. Then there was Von Trier.
Lars Von Trier is unquestionably one of the great directors in cinema right now. Controversial, brave, frustrating and never easy to pin down, Von Trier also has a reputation for running his actors into the ground. Bjork is said to have checked herself into a hospital after her legendary turn in his DANCER IN THE DARK (1999) and one glance at the startling DOGVILLE CONFESSIONS (2003) shows that Kidman is in some sort of serious trouble. One particular moment I will never forget has her sprawled out on a bed, around the time of the infamous rape scene, staring into the camera and whispering, "Help Me." It could have been a diva like moment except for the fact that I very much believe Nicole Kidman when she whispers this confessional short plea in this clip.

So I don't blame Nicole Kidman for backing away from her more uncompromising work after the DOGVILLE and BIRTH experiences but that doesn't make me any less depressed about where her career is right now. Starting with the horrendous remake of THE STEPFORD WIVES (2004) right through to the recent and dismal THE INVASION (2007), Hollywood has reduced Kidman to a shell of her former self. Films like BEWITCHED (2005), THE INTERPRETER (2005) and FUR (2006) are not terrible (although BEWITCHED is pretty close) but they have each contributed to Kidman's quick professional downfall. THE INVASION is the worst yet and the biggest waste of Nicole's considerable talents since BATMAN FOREVER over 12 years ago.

So what's next for Nicole Kidman? Thankfully her upcoming projects seem more promising. First up is Noah Baumbach's SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005) follow up, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING which will give Nicole the chance to act with the equally fierce Jennifer Jason Leigh (another great actress who has been woefully underused lately). She then has THE GOLDEN COMPASS which will team her up again with Daniel Craig and perhaps most excitedly, Baz Luhrmann's AUSTRALIA. Now, I am not a fan of Luhrmann but I hope that the very fact that Kidman is out of Hollywood and back in Australia will relight some of the fire she has lost in the past few years.
Kidman is also preparing NEED, which will match her with her real life best friend Naomi Watts and she is rumored for Wong's remake of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI. Where her career leads her at this point remains to be seen. Perhaps she peaked with DOGVILLE and BIRTH but I hope not. Nicole Kidman in the right role is a reminder of how powerful modern English Language cinema can be, unfortunately as of late she has been a reminder of how mainstream Hollywood can suck all of the life out of even the greatest performers. I wish her luck and hope for many future roles that are worthy of her talents.

Nicole Kidman's greatest work can be found in the following films. Anyone suspicious of her abilities are advised to check any of these out.

In Chronological order:

ROOM TO MOVE (1985): One of Nicole's earliest roles was as a teenager in this hour long drama that was a part of the Australian WINNERS series. Even at this young age she was showing an amazing natural depth few actresses can claim to have.

VIETNAM (1987): Nicole won the Australian Film Institutes's Best Actress award for this powerful Australian miniseries. She was just 19 years old when when she made it.

DEAD CALM (1989): Intense, claustrophobic little Australian thriller in which Kidman steals from her more experienced co-star, Sam Neil.

FLIRTING (1991): Totally charming Australian coming of age film that featured early appearances by both Thandie Newton and Naomi Watts.

TO DIE FOR (1995): Although it is becoming harder and harder to believe, Gus Van Sant was once a really fascinating director and this is one of his best films. Kidman eats the screen in one of the most unforgettable performances of the nineties.

THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY (1996): Jane Campion's finest two hours and one of Nicole's most subtle and accomplished performances.

EYES WIDE SHUT (1999): I have been called crazy for saying this but I will gladly repeat it here. This is my favorite Stanley Kubrick film, with the exception of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, and one of its biggest strengths is the complicated performance Kidman delivers for the grand master in this, his final film.

THE OTHERS (2001): Alejandro Amenabar's creepy and old fashioned ghost story is one of my favorite genre films of the decade and you would have to go all the way back to Mia Farrow in 1978's FULL CIRCLE to find a more penetrating genre performance. A tour de force by everyone involved.

BIRTHDAY GIRL (2001): A real wild card but a winning little film featuring one of Nicole's sneakiest and sexiest performances.

THE HOURS (2002): A film many people seem to hate but I can't imagine too many having much of a problem with Nicole's Oscar winning turn here. Compare her very natural work with the very mannered Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep at her most irritatingly histrionic.

DOGVILLE (2003): Love it, hate it but admit that there has never been anything quite like it.

THE HUMAN STAIN (2003): She is at her peak by this point and this is Robert Benton's best film since 1982's STILL OF THE NIGHT. A criminally ignored performance.

COLD MOUNTAIN (2003): I am still surprised by the cold reception this film from Anthony Minghella got. A beautiful and ambitious civil war drama that brought Miramax to its knees. It features another totally dedicated performance by Kidman.

BIRTH (2004): The end of the line so far. A chilling European Art Film disguised as a horror film penned by legendary BELLE DE JOUR writer Jean-Claude Carriere. Probably the best performance Nicole Kidman has ever given and possibly, along with SOLARIS and IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE, the most underrated film of the decade. If Nicole Kidman's career had to rest on the final moments in this film then she has already qualified herself as one of the true greats.


scott said...

In alot of ways, I never cared much for Kidman. Her association with Tom Cruise kept me at bay - though I did see TO DIE FOR and enjoyed it. Is it ironic that most of her better work unfolded after that split?

BIRTH is probably the best work of hers I've seen though DOGVILLE has to be a close second. I went into BIRTH not expecting the punch it delivered. I thought it was better than THE HOURS.

Jennifer Jason Leigh..what an actress!! I wonder if LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN will ever come out on the R1 dvd.

Jeremy Richey said...

BIRTH is a really shockingly great film to me and it bothers me more people haven't discovered it.

I love Jennifer Jason Leigh, she is such a powerhouse and someone else who has stopped getting the roles she deserves...I really hope the new Baumbach film works out for both of them...thanks for the comments Scott.

Anonymous said...

Kidman is a star of the highest... up there with Hepburn. Who, also, took time off. No need to keep working full time when you own everything.
I know she is keeping busy.. far less then usual. With less Pazazz then the past.
I contribute that too her wanting to be more available to her children and hubby.
Regardless I think every project she touches turns to gold.

Jeremy Richey said...

Comparing anyone to Audrey is a pretty lofty compliment but I think at her best Kidman lives up to that. I think even Audrey Hepburn would have trouble turning films like "Invasion" and "The Stepford Wives" into gold...I really hope Nic's upcoming films are more worthy of her...
thanks for the comments.

Rogue Spy 007 said...

My brother was always the big Kidman fan of us two. I did like her. She's beautiful and talented. "Dead Calm" was the first thing I saw her in. She's an outstanding actress who has made a lot of great films over the years. She has been in quite a decline over the last few years though. It's a shame though. Her talent has been squandered in a lot of terrible projects. Hopefully she's about to rebound.

Joe Valdez said...

Great article, Jeremy. With so many bad reviews streaming in for The Invasion, I was starting to wonder myself what exactly had happened to Nicole Kidman, who I've liked since Dead Calm.

Her slide started with The Hours. The phoniness she accepted her Oscar with turned me off much, much more than who she used to be married to. Your article did a good job of analyzing where her career has gone wrong and how it might get back on track.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Joe,
I tell you the Oscar acceptance speech is tricky business. I didn't have the reaction you had to Nic's but boy did I have it to Halle Barry. I went from liking and admiring her to an almost instant hatred during what I thought was one of the most contrived and self serving speeches I have ever heard. And of course people still talk about how moving it was...on the flip side someone like Jennifer Connelly (whom I adore) gave a very low keyed and sincere speech which every one hated and she hasn't been nominated since (even though she has deserved it on several occasions). It seems the more you ham it up, the more the Academy responds...Ugh...
Thanks for your comments...I do hope her upcoming projects bring her back. I appreciate hearing your thoughts...Jeremy

Marc said...

Sorry but I don't agree with you on The Interpreter and Fur. Sure these movies are no masterpieces but I think The Interpreter is a solid (B/B-) political thriller and Fur is quite original compared with other american biopics. And she's GREAT in both films. I mean, do you realize that a lesser actress would KILL to get two juicy parts like these ones ?
Isabelle Huppert is one of the most respected actresses worldwide but are Ma mère, La vie promise or Deux great movies with a great performance by Huppert ? No. My point is every actor who takes risks will fail at some point, that doesn't mean he or she won't be back on form or in a great film. Look at Kidman's line-up :
Who else can show such a resume over a period of four years ?
She's the bravest actress of her generation. Period

Anonymous said...

Nicole Kidman's career has gone wrong or is on a downward slope despite the fact that you list her upcoming movies and says it should get her back on track? if she has 2 bad years and an upcoming slate that is already getting raves (Margot At The Wedding) from test screening) what is wrong about such a career? so, she has had 2 bad years since, let's say, 2001, come on, give the woman a break.

In those 2 years, she has worked with Sydney Pollack, Nora Ephron, Frank Oz, Steven Shainberg, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Noah Baumbach, these are brilliant writers and directors. The only subpar director on this list is Nora Ephron, a better writer than she is a director, none of these directors should have made a bad movie, how many people hear the names of these directors attached to a movie and go "that's bad". Ephron's Bewitched was not good, Frank Oz just accepted blame for TSW, that he went with the studio's vision rather than his hence the failure. Pollack's Interpreter was a solid grade B movie, it certainly wasn't awful. Shainberg's Fur took her back to an uncompromising vision and she delivered a subtle, stomach knotting performance as Diane Arbus. And we know why Invasion failed, it is because Joel Silver changed his mind about the character driven movie that Hirschbiegel promised to deliver and went for an action movie months after Hirschbiegel wrapped his movie. She made very good decisions in working with these directors.

Within the last 2 years of making these movies, she has also made MATW and The Golden Compass waiting to be released. If her career is on such a downward slope, what is she doing making these movies then signing up to do Australia or The Reader, another uncompromising role that will take from from a woman working for the German SS to one who sleeps with a teenage boy, etc.

Yes, it has been a bad or not so good two years but have you considered that in the next few weeks of people badgering her for The Invasion and wondering what happened to her career, the whole tide is going to turn when they see MATW?

Her career doesn't need any help, she is already doing major work. Let the woman succeed or fail, she is entitled, let her take risks. I guess it is a testament to the type of actress she is that making just 3 grade C movies (Bewitched, TSW and Invasion) in 2 years is deemed career suicide or freefall. There are performers that need the help Kidman is not one of them. Wwhat was the last real gritty work that Christopher Walken did, what happened to De Niro, anyone remember when Tommy Lee Jones made that cheerleader movie only to come back last year or so?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article. While I'm admittedly not a Nicole Kidman fan, she comes across as too un-likable to me, she certainly has delivered some outstanding work. My personal favorite is The Others and of course To Die For couldn't have been a better role for her. Dogville was simply fascinating. And I have to say I liked The Interpreter. I thought the first few minutes of The Stepford Wives was brilliant work. The rest of the movie stunk though. I'm on the fence about Birth. Do I think she's the greatest actress out there? Absolutely not. In my own opinion, I don't think she has that wide of a range. Her best work in my opinion is when she plays the cold, manipulative character or the slightly unbalanced character. Sorry, I just don't think she can do comedy. Bewitched?? I do think she's highly overexposed as well. I have to disagree with whoever said the Nicole Kidman is less busier than normal. If anything, she seems busier then I've seen her. I thought after she married, she slow down. By looking at her upcoming projects, she's far from slowing down. And I think that may be part of the turn off for some people. Nicole is seen by a lot of people as somebody very, very ambitious and driven. That isn't a bad thing, but when you sacrifice time with your family, and make them do all the traveling back and forth, namely her children and husband, that doesn't sit to well with some. These days the likability factor is very important.

Anonymous said...

Come on anonymous 3:58, she may have film after film but this woman puts a time lock on them just like anybody who works and the woman certainly isn't working non-stop.

Last year, she worked for less than 3 months and all she did was sit at home with her family in Nashville and LA before working for six weeks on MATW and then about 4 weeks on TGC, the year before that she worked on Fur for 6 weeks after spending time with her family in Australia before going to work for 3 months on Invasion after another break this time in New York.

This year is the odd one out. Her husband and kids are travelling back and forth because it is how it works out. I would say this year is perhaps the only time it has happened and that is because she is working in Australia, her husband did what needed to be done and travels back to see her because he is also planning a more rigorous tour until May 2008, what should Kidman do? board the plane for a 20 hour journey only to travel back the next day? her hubby on the other hand sets his own schedule. When they were both in the States, she was making her way to his shows and then back home to Nashville. Are her kids travelling back and forth? I can't say I know the whole story but the woman was in LA from the end of last year till very early April with those same kids, is it because there are no pictures? Her kids travel to see her, why not? nobody sees her when she is in LA, how many pics of Kidman were the paparazzi able to get from January to April 07, no more than 5, it doesn't mean she wasn't there.

Since 2003 up to early 2006, she worked mostly in New York where she lived with her kids before moving to Nashville early 2006 even when she was making TGC, she worked during the week and made her way back to Nashville for the weekend until her hubby went for rehab treatment then it was off to LA every weekend (I know because the media made a big deal of the fact that she was never around or seen).

If being ambitious, hardworking and driven are the things that make her unlikeable because people don't see proof of her mothering or wifely skills then it is people's loss, not hers because those thing should be invisible, no medals should be given for those duties. She may not be able to drag the audiences into the cinema but her work is still tops.

A woman who spends just six months at work is not a bad wife or mother, she is a working wife and mother and for those months will move things around. If all actresses are painted with these same brush strokes then they should all pack up their bags and find a 9-5 job.

It is incredible that the lack of proof of her not being with her family is apparently contributing to her being unlikeable, incredible because it is the fact that she is not pandering to the media in Oz, giving them picture opportunities of gallivantng across the cities that is riling them over there, wherever she is on location, Kidman makes her way to Sydney every weekend when she is not needed or when her hubby is not around to go be with her family.

I hope she doesn't change her attitude, we need more women like that, women who are not defined by being mothers or wives but by what they achieve on the world stage. I really wish she was a European actress and needn't put up with this level of ridiculousness.

Anonymous said...

My god. It doesn't take long for the Kidman groupies to come out.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify something Anonymous 5:21 said. Nicole did not go back to LA every everyend while filming TGC in November. Thanks to the paps, we know she went back the first 2 weekends (how do paps get on the grounds of a secured facility?), then the other weekends were filled up with doing an interview and photo shoot with Daniel Craig for a magazine, visiting Naomi Watts' London film set, going to the Happy Feet premier in London and then going to Switzerland. And in mid-december she went to Australia to start rehearsals on the movie.

Are the stories true that Nicole is going to go to Germany in September to do The Reader? Is she not going to take a break after "Australia" is complete?

I know Birth was considered controversial by some because of the young boy. How do you think The Reader will be taken considering the intense relationship between a 36 year old woman and 15 year old boy? Do you think that will be a little too taboo?

Anonymous said...

The point I was trying to make was that she made her way to LA every week, I will stand corrected on it not being every weekend but she was always in LA for a few days every week, she was never in the UK for a full week.

Visit with Naomi Watts: Monday November 20th, 2006.

Happy Feet premiere: last week of filming her scenes in London, wasn't in town until about Wednesday.

Omega/UNIFEM event: Thursday November 30th

Yes, I am a Kidman fan/groupie as someone stated both professionally and as a woman and when her personal life or how she lives it is stumped on because it apparently is not the norm then that should be answered, I won't defend her for everything except for things that need a bit of commonsense and reality. It astounds me how her life is measured pictorially, it is all "we don't see, we don't see" or "we only see, we only see", etc. Life is not as closetedly black and white.

A major star in crisis? of course the press wanted pics of her all the time during those months, they were glued to her hip following her everywhere until they got bored when all she did was go to the movies or gym in those first weeks. Most people never knew where Urban was, thinking he was in Nashville receiving treatment and vilified Kidman for sauntering around LA and leaving him there until about 2-3 weeks later when she visited him. Once, they knew that Urban was at the BFC, the papz were camped outside, I believe ET or Access Hollywood interviewed some of them, they'd been there for days.

After those 2 visits, Keith was no longer at the main clinic, he'd been moved to dormitory style housing because he'd already spent 4 weeks or so there, maybe that is why we didn't see any pics? Let's remember that he was still in rehab at every stage, one of the strictest with their rules and regulations and she could only see him as directed by the BFC rules, what should she do in the mean time? sew?

Things are never so black and white even with the paparazzi snapping at every turn and providing proof.

As for The Reader, her role is pivotal but pretty small, it should take just a few weeks for her and Daldry is a pretty fast director, he may also shoot the male character's scenes first and then shoot hers weeks after "Australia" wraps to give her time to have a break. Both she and her hubby are working very hard, it is their job to live their marriage, with sacrifices when need be. Who knows what will happen when he starts touring from November till May? she could be his cheerleader for all those months. We don't know any of these things and that is the way it should be, it should be invisible.

Anonymous said...

From a Kidman groupie:) on the other side of the world, thank you for a very interesting article. Nicole was always regarded here (since 2001)as the most versatile and consistently suprising actress of her generation.

Not worried about this Invasion thing, because the majority of theatrical revenue on studio films now comes from foreign box office.Think about us!!! (the Asian market loves suspense thrillers)

Will E. said...

I too have suffered slings and arrows for thinking Eyes Wide Shut terrific. I was held in thrall the entire time. The only thing more depressing about some of Kidman's recent films is her unfortunately obvious plastic surgeries. Why, oh why?!