Vanilla Sky
review by Gregory Avery, 14 December 2001

In Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise plays David Aames, Jr., a brash young publisher who is wealthy, successful, and very sure of himself, and who takes things much too lightly (as evidenced by one of his enterprises, a glossy magazine that resembles Maxim). As he leaves to go to work in the morning, Cruise's character stops, looks to one side before embarking into the street and the outside world, as if checking to see if someone is going to run up to him and say, no, you're not suppose to be having another perfect day in a perfect life, there's been a mistake. No one stops him, though, and from his expression he knows there won't be, but, after getting that verification, he begins. It's a very nice touch to open the movie on.

The girl whom he is seeing, Julie (Cameron Diaz), does not take things lightly. In fact, she causes David, to become both hideously disfigured and permanently injured in ways that not even the best surgeons and specialists can set right, and he then becomes a psychological wreck as well. Reality also begins to change on him in insidious ways. Cameron Crowe, who wrote and directed the film, signals from the start that something is amiss beneath the surface -- we see David in detention, speaking to a psychiatrist (Kurt Russell, looking very studious) who treats him as if he were insane, and since the story is being told from David's point of view, we begin to wonder if the events as related on the screen are what really occurred, or the product of David's physical and emotional trauma. Shortly before he is disfigured, David meets and falls for the lovely  Sofia (Penélope Cruz), whom he effortlessly wins away from his friend Brian (scraggly Jason Lee). After he's disfigured, Sofia keeps changing places with Julie -- at one point, Sofia acts as if she and David were never intimately acquainted 

The fluctuations and ellipses are explained away by a curveball thrown in the film's last half-hour -- having to do with "designer" realities, complete with tech support, in the form of a deferential, rather sepulchral-looking, Noah Taylor -- but this is essentially a story about how a man finds himself, "waking up" so that he can become a better person, and how he then carries on with his life.  Casting Tom Cruise, who is one of the most photogenic personalities around right now and who is very muscularly-defined for the film, as a character who lets damage to his outer self affect his internal self is not a bad idea. But Cruise plays David with too much emphasis on the arch, florid way in which he handles everything in life, and the character comes off as a bit too smarmy. His self-infatuation and mockery may be entertaining at first, but it comes at the expense of showing us  whatever worthier self  may lie underneath, waiting to be salvaged, and without that David, and Cruise, just seems to be show-boating through much of the action, as he, literally, descends into the puddles and the gutter.

I can't say that the pairing of Cruise and Cruz is exactly volcanic, either. In fact, it's something of a dud: they speak softly to each other, gaze into each other's eyes, and as they flirt and twinkle their way along, the movie flops-over into a swoon. There is also a curious amount of smiling, or, rather, baring of teeth, which, after a while, looks less like romancing than flinching.

Cameron Crowe based the movie on the 1997 film, Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), which was directed by Alejandro Amenábar, who was responsible this year for the exquisite ghost story The Others. Vanilla Sky has some painfully obvious business involving David wearing, or carrying around, a smooth latex mask, which looks like something out of a Laura Branagan music video. (The "real" man can't show himself.) On the other hand, the film also contains some stunning visual coups, including an evocation of an early Bob Dylan album cover, and a brilliantly put-together montage which makes unexpectedly effective use of passages from two song recordings, one by the Monkees, the other by Todd Rundgren. (The film's title comes from a song written by Paul McCartney.)

And that brings us, again, to the ending, which is either going to wow people or infuriate them beyond belief. David has to choose between staying still or starting a new life. The best thing to do would be to choose the adventurousness of living -- it's more brave and affirming, because of all the possibilities inherent. Instead, David chooses -- or, in fact, has already chosen -- a solution which is so far-flung as to scale the whole movie down to the point of insignificance. After all the gimcrackery, Vanilla Sky ends up telling us, yeah, life is fine, as long as you have, say, a really good alarm clock stashed in case of emergencies.

Written and
Directed by:

Cameron Crowe

Tom Cruise
Penélope Cruz
Cameron Diaz
Jason Lee
Noah Taylor
Tilda Swinton
Kurt Russell

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult




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