Vanilla Sky (2001) – movie review

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Movie Reviews by Dr Kuma and Toby White

Starring: Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Cameron Diaz

Director: Cameron Crowe

Review by Dr Kuma

Cruise does Cruz in this convoluted tale of love; wealth and plastic surgery, directed by the audio inclined Cameron Crowe.

The story in a nutshell; Tom Cruise is a 33 year-old business tycoon David Aames who lives, eats and breathes the playboy lifestyle. His guru father left him 51% of his multi media company which gives him control of the other members of the board (including his only real friend in the business Timothy Spall) whom he affectionately calls the seven dwarfs (they, Tim, informs him call him Dildo). All is fantastic until his close friend turns up at his birthday party with (Penélope Cruz). It’s love at first sight and all of the other ladies in his life including Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) take a back seat as Tom tries to woo her with his mustang! What he didn’t bank on was that Julie was infatuated with him and she lures David into her car with the promise of one last ‘session’. This could well have been his last as the confused Julie drives her car off a bridge in Manhattan, killing herself and permanently scarring Aames (although his face is badly damaged, his teeth remain immaculate – strange as his jaw is re-arranged?)

This story then focuses on David’s rehabilitation and how he tries to rebuild himself, not only physically, but also as a person with the help of his lawyer/shrink Dr. Curtis McCabe (an excellent turn from Kurt Russell).

Although this sounds pretty much like your average Hollywood pic, it’s then that the viewer is grabbed by the scruff of the neck and subjected to so many plot changes that it leaves your head spinning. The clues to the actual ‘grand finale’ are scattered through the movie for all to see. At first, without going into them, I thought these scenes were Crowe’s homage to ‘pop’ culture. Of course, these references, no matter how small, are interracial parts of the story and are all very clever. If you’re a music fan, you’ll smirk to yourself and think this is just the director’s vanity trip. It’s when all these elements come together that you appreciate the director’s tongue in cheek homage.

Although this is by far and away the strangest mainstream film to hit the screens for some time, the strangest thing is that Cruz is reprising the role she played in Alejandro Amenabar’s original (translated title is OPEN YOUR EYES). The fact that this movie isn’t a Hollywood disaster along the lines of City Of Angels is down to the pulling power of Cruise and the bankabilty of it’s director (as well as the story behind the two stars – Hollywood’s always loved on-set gossip).

Away from all of this, just go and see the movie. Not many people will think this film is just ‘OK’. You’ll either love it or loathe it. I must admit, that the opening shot of Cruise alone in Times Square (a la FLESH THE WORLD & THE DEVIL) hooked me. The film just runs slightly too long.

Make up your own mind, but let me just say that you need to keep your eyes peeled, not just open.

Verdict: EYES WIDE SHUT, now OPEN YOUR EYES. That’s the way Tom.

5 out of 6 stars

Review by Toby White

What a curious web is weaved in contemporary Hollywood. VANILLA SKY, starring Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz (thus launching their famous post-Kidman break-up affair), is a remake of the Spanish ABRE LOS OJOS aka OPEN YOUR EYES by Alejandro Amenabar. Cruz, in fact, reprises her role from this original. Co-incidentally, Amenabar’s recent Hollywood hit is THE OTHERS, starring Nicole Kidman. The circle, if tenuous, is now complete.

But enough gossip. Let’s cut to the quick. Cruise plays David Aames, an hereditary millionaire playboy with as much a taste for women as a distaste for work. The morning after the evening he meets the love of his life, Sophia, (Cruz) his hedonistic lifestyle catches up with him in the shape of Julie (Diaz) who coaxes him into her car, goes psycho and drives them both off a bridge. The “accident” kills Julie and disfigures the Cruiser. But Sophia still likes the man despite his deformity and even falls for him following reconstructive surgery. This utopia soon spins downwards, however, as a series of surreal incidents, including his involvement in Julie’s “murder”, cause David to question his reality which hints that maybe it’s not just his face that has been reconstructed, but his life.

Directed by Cameron Crowe (JERRY MAGUIRE, ALMOST FAMOUS), you know there’s a guarantee that you’re in for a treat here. Crowe has an amazing ability when it comes to shooting films, they toss you from one emotion to another and do it seamlessly (I confess, I’m a fan). The cast are excellent and I’ll bet my boxers that Cruise is up for an Oscar nod – there’s a fantastic scene where he challenges the integrity of a panel of scientists and surgeons over their attempted solutions to his disfigurement. Watch out for that moment when his scars are revealed: if this film balks at vanity then they picked the right lead man to do it to shock us. I must also mention Jason Lee, playing David’s best friend…brilliant (if not in it enough).

If I had to say anything against it, it may be a little long and this makes it drag a little. The second half sends your mind spinning as layer on layer of eerie subplot gets painted on with a spatula. One half accepts it because, structurally, we’re given flashbacks/forwards of David’s interview with a psychologist (a great mainstream cameo from Kurt Russell) so we do need answers but the structure is anything but linear which can be confusing.

It’s a curious blend: part love story, part thriller. The surreal elements may be off-putting but its approach to issues of vanity, disfigurement and its consequences are both compelling and unsettling at the same time. Crowe and Cruise fans will no doubt relish this but go in with no preconceptions attached despite its pedigree. And in case you’re wondering, the title refers to the colour of the sky in a Monet painting mentioned in the film and provides an interesting metaphor…though I never worked out what for (or, at least, couldn’t explain it in 500 words).

4 out of 6 stars