Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Cameron Crowe
Stars: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Timothy Spall, Jason Lee, Kurt Russell, Tilda Swinton, Noah Taylor.
A remake of the Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky is a bewildering, existential sci-fi thriller that will be mainly remembered as the film that led to the split in the fairy tale marriage between Hollywood’s favourite son Tom Cruise and red hot flavour of the year Nicole Kidman. The attendant publicity surrounding the breakup and the subsequent romance between Cruise and his co-star Penelope Cruz has garnered plenty of interest in a film that will ultimately leave many in the audience scratching their heads and wondering what the fuss was all about. Cruise was passionate about the Spanish original, and has been the driving force behind this stylish Hollywood remake, which reunites him with Crowe, his Jerry Maguire director.
With his usual mannerisms and cocky grin firmly in place for a while, Cruise plays David Aames, a narcissistic, superficial and spoiled rich kid who has inherited his father’s publishing empire and lavish life style. But David takes very little in his luxurious life seriously – women, money, fast cars, even the family business, which is run by a group of very serious businessmen he refers to as “the seven dwarves.” Aames even refuses to make a serious commitment to his relationship with the beautiful but possessive Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz). Then at a lavish birthday party bash, David spies the beautiful Sofia (Penelope Cruz, reprising her role from the Spanish original in a quirky piece of casting), the girl friend of his best friend, writer Brian Shelby (Jason Lee, from Almost Famous, etc).
David and Sofia hit it off but their flirtation has serious consequences. In a fit of pique, Julia takes David on a fast ride through the city and then crashes her car, leaving David seriously disfigured. As David tries to readjust to life after the accident, he finds his life spiraling out of control. Vanilla Sky unfolds begins with David, hidden behind a latex mask, imprisoned and accused of murder, and unfolds in a series of lengthy flashbacks. David tells his story to a sympathetic police psychologist (Kurt Russell), who is assessing his suitability to stand trial for murder, and the mosaic of his recent disturbing life slowly unfolds, and begins to make some sort of warped sense – or does it.
Vanilla Sky (it’s title comes from a painting that David admires) is a visually stylish and imaginative film that explores some complex themes and ideas, but it somehow leaves audiences ultimately feeling detached. At a fairly generous 130 minutes, Vanilla Sky also seems far too long, and its excessive length is likely to tax the patience of some. As with all of Crowe’s films, music plays an important part, and Vanilla Sky is no exception, as the impressive soundtrack features artists of the calibre of REM and U2.
The opening sequence, which sees Cruise’s character run desperately through the bizarrely deserted New York streets, is certainly impressive and superbly shot by dual Oscar winning cinematographer John Toll, but there is little in the film to match its audacious opening.
With his face hidden beneath prosthetic makeup and a latex mask for much of the duration, Cruise is unable to rely on his boyish good looks and toothy grin, and is forced to stretch himself as an actor. However, he sometimes struggles to make the thoroughly selfish and unlikable David a hero audiences can warm to, and this is probably the least likeable character he has played on film. Although certainly pleasing to the eye, Cruz is a limited performer who has struggled to bring much animation to her roles in Hollywood films (All The Pretty Horses, etc), and here she again fails to reveal much depth to her character. Diaz is good as the jealous Julia, and delivers probably the most memorable performance here. Crowe wastes actors of the calibre of Tilda Swinton in a small cameo, and Timothy Spall as David’s lawyer. Noah Taylor is underused in a small role as a mysterious stranger who finally explains to Cruise’s character, and the audience, what has transpired in the past.