Vanilla Sky Review
It's worrying that Hollywood feels the need to remake an intriguing Spanish film just four years after it was made, as opposed to re-releasing the original with strong marketing campaigns. Alejandro Amenábar, talented writer/director of The Others, released unto the world Abre los ojos in 1997, it was a dreamy surrealist voyage into the realms of the intellectual state. It starred Penelope Cruz and Eduardo Noriega, and was met with respectable critical acclaim.
Enter Tom Cruise, desperate to do his own version of Abre los ojos. Cruise sweet-talks Amenábar into allowing a remake by producing The Others for his then wife Nicole Kidman, which was directed and written by Amenábar. The virtually exact remake was renamed Vanilla Sky and was to carry with it the inclusion of Penelope Cruz, who made the headlines for allegedly splitting up Cruise and Kidman. The director of the remake, Cameron Crowe, fresh from the successes of Jerry Maguire (also Tom Cruise) and Almost Famous, claimed that it was apparent to everyone working on the production that Cruise and Cruz(!) were in love, and the divorce followed shortly.
It's horrible to write this for a cinema review, but it is true of Vanilla Sky that there isn't much of the plot that can be revealed without a) ruining the surprises and b) making any sense at all. The film exists in a permanent state between what is real and what is a dream, and just when you think you are finally ahead of the plot, another story element enters that was never even hinted at earlier in the film. Essentially, the film changes its status in terms of genre nearly every act, and at the end, the film is poles apart from its beginning.
For those that require a brief allusion as to the plot, Vanilla Sky starts off with the film's protagonist David Aames (Tom Cruise) living a life of luxury as a young, womanising millionaire. After using the attractive Juliana Gianni (Cameron Diaz) for sex, David is having trouble giving Juliana the push. After throwing a large party in which Juliana is not invited, David is annoyed further when she shows up, crying over her rejection and spying on his every move. To hide from Juliana's stalking, David convinces Sofia (Penelope Cruz), the date of David's best friend Brian (Jason Lee) to talk to him. Soon the pair form a quick sexual friendship, and the next morning David is bothered by the fact that Juliana is waiting for him outside Sofia's home. Juliana offers to drive David home, and during the journey starts to frantically pour out her frustrations to him. Pushing herself to a psychotically distressed level, Juliana drives the car off a bridge, and kills herself in the process. David awakens scarred and broken, and needs severe facial reconstruction work to be done. This is the least of his problems however, as the nightmare scenarios start from here, and David's life continues to take a turn for the stranger.
Vanilla Sky is very intelligent on paper, but the film gets bogged down by too many ideas, and the choice of Cameron Crowe as director doesn't quite work out. For the first act of the film, it's typical Cameron Crowe feel-good entertainment, but when the film starts to deviate from this it backfires slightly, as Crowe has lulled the audience into a false sense of safety. Granted, this approach does help the disorientating effect, but the audience never feels like Crowe is ever going to deliver on his promise and make the twists and turns worthwhile, unlike Alejandro Amenábar who managed this deftly with Abre los ojos and even The Others. The ending is anti-climatic and slightly baffling, and makes you wish you could rewind the film a little in order to re-watch certain sequences. This is unfortunate, as Vanilla Sky would have been excellent if it delivered a worthy conclusion.
Visually, the film is impressive, in particular the sequence of David running along an empty Times Square which carries The Omega Man overtones. The makeup of David's disfigurement by Michèle Burke is also very impressive in a deliberately grotesque way, and should surely receive an Oscar nomination.
Acting wise, Cruise does his usual job but never seems anything other than Tom Cruise. Penelope Cruz is sexy in an enchanting way, but there are times in which her pouting looks dominate her acting. Cameron Diaz is sexy yet scary as the obsessive Juliana, and Jason Lee is what is his usual typecast role of the best friend who wants to be more like the protagonist. Arguably the best performance is by Kurt Russell, who drifts in and out of the film as David's caring psychologist McCabe, and is perhaps deserving of an Oscar nomination.
Anyone who has seen Crowe's Almost Famous will know of the director's fondness for classic rock and pop, and the film is littered with many well-known standards of the late twentieth century. Some songs are put to inspired use, such as Radiohead's Everything In Its Right Place and the excellent Paul McCartney title track, but some of the overt musical iconography appears as mere indulgence on the director's part.
Vanilla Sky presents impressive food for thought for the cinema-goers of today, even if it is essentially a Tom Cruise rehash of a film successful in its own right. It doesn't pander to the formulaic style of Hollywood plotting, and it won't please everyone, but it certainly will delight some.