The crazier Nicholson gets, the more idiotic he looks. Shelley Duvall transforms the warm sympathetic wife of the book into a simpering, semi-retarded hysteric.
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What are critics saying?
Stephen King reportedly loathed the liberties Kubrick and co-writer Diane Johnson took with his story, but King's ur-villain, the emasculated husband from hell, has never been more clearly presented on-screen.
Kubrick is after a cool, sunlit vision of hell, born in the bosom of the nuclear family, but his imagery--with its compulsive symmetry and brightness--is too banal to sustain interest, while the incredibly slack narrative line forestalls suspense.
The New York Times by Janet Maslin
Meticulously detailed and never less than fascinating, The Shining may be the first movie that ever made its audience jump with a title that simply says "Tuesday."
The Globe and Mail (Toronto) by Jay Scott
Kubrick certainly doesn't fail small. One could fast forget The Shining as an overreaching, multi-levelled botch were it not for Jack Nicholson. Nicholson, one of the few actors capable of getting the audience to love him no matter what he does, is an ideal vehicle for Kubrick. [14 Jun 1980, p.E1]
It is a daring thing the director has done, this bleaching out of all the cheap thrills, this dashing of all the hopes one brings to what is, after all, advertised as "a masterpiece of modern horror." Certainly he has asked much of Nicholson, who must sustain attention in a hugely unsympathetic role, and who responds with a brilliantly crazed performance.
Chicago Sun-Times by Roger Ebert
But there is no way, within the film, to be sure with any confidence exactly what happens, or precisely how, or really why. Kubrick delivers this uncertainty in a film where the actors themselves vibrate with unease.