banner image

:: Vanilla Sky

I came away from this film with no real feeling at all. In trying to absorb what I’d seen and taking into account the high quality of actors on show, I’ve come to the conclusion that Vanilla Sky is a mass of inexplicable confusion, and bewilderment at the lengths made to effect the production.

This is quite a mind-bending excursion by director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) across various genres – romance, fantasy, horror and mystery. Not only is this Crowe’s first move into the realm of remakes (This is an American remake of the 1997 Spanish film “Open Your Eyes”), but it’s without the safety net of being rooted in pop culture. This is like him thinking that I have this band that covers someone else’s song with ease. I do sense that Crowe was aware of the pitfalls in trying to remake any film, particularly as it was a foreign language hit. Something invariably gets lost in the translation. Penelope Cruz played the principal love interest (Sofia) in Aalejandro Amenabar’s film, and does likewise here, alongside Tom Cruise (David Ames) in the lead role. It’s this pairing alone that ensures box office appeal at least. So, that was a good move.

The film begins in darkness. Sofia whispers to David, “Open your eyes. Wake up.” Only, he never does. In the opening sequence, he heads presumably to work. But Times Square is empty. Oh, but this is just a dream. The sequence is repeated; this time with the special added attraction of a sensual young woman, Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), in David’s bed, and Manhattan being the usual bustling neighbourhood. Is this real?

David Ames is a handsome head of a publishing empire. His late father left 51% of the company to him. But David likes the life of skiing and partying, and doesn’t immerse himself with running a company. He has a gorgeous girlfriend, Julie, who is very sexually active. David takes it all casually however. His best mate is Brian (Jason Lee). When Brian brings Sofia to a birthday party, David is instantly attracted to her. That makes Julie jealous. Feeling hurt and betrayed, she invites David for a ride in her car. But she crashes, killing herself and badly injuring David. He survives but must wear a mask to hide the numerous scars.

We see David discussing this “dream” with psychiatrist Dr Curtis McCabe (Kurt Russell) who is investigating a murder. The doctor is appointed to counsel David and hints at his paranoiac mentality and dream-like worldview. Whether David is a murderer, a madman, or a victim of a set-up is a question that dogs this long and complicated film. I think that most of the audience around me were wondering, like I was, when the film was going to finish.

It certainly is not a conventional romantic thriller. It weaves into the psychology of an edgy and spooky journey. But it’s a fight for a moviegoer to set oneself free from the deeply weird material on offer. I must say that the desolate Times Square scene is amazing. It must have taken Crowe some effort to convince New York authorities to come to the party. Crowe’s music background sees some excellent songs used on the soundtrack – Jeff Buckley, R.E.M., Chemical Brothers, to name a few.

The top-shelf cast goes a little of the way to take in the twisted film situations. Tom Cruise is ideal as the good-looking guy who plays off his stature. But it’s both a smart and risky role. It probably doesn’t come off as he would like. Penelope Cruz is lovely as the idealised Sofia and brings subtle nuances to the role. Cameron Diaz is suitably sexy and has the edge to play the obsessed lover to perfection. And there are other fine actors. A restrained Kurt Russell supports well as David’s psychologist, while Jason Lee and Australian actor Noah Taylor are good in supporting roles.

Ultimately, I see Vanilla Sky as not finding itself. It’s a struggle to come to grips with, and it dragged for the last half hour. It isn’t vanilla as such, but containing too many other swirling flavours. I’m sure that Cameron Crowe won’t ever dabble in something more extravagant again.

Screening on general release