Cameron Crowe directs Vanilla Sky, a Hollywood remake of Alejandro Amenábar's Open Your Eyes released in 2001 to some success but mixed reactions from audiences and critics alike. Over the years the film has enjoyed something of a cult status.
Every so often there's a film that you can't quite place into any category, and this can be a frustrating thing. Vanilla Sky is one of those films. Part romance, part science-fiction, part psychological thriller... it's a cinematic mosaic and one that works ridiculously well considering that, in lesser hands, this would have been a complete disaster. Here's a film that will divide viewers with some dismissing it as pretentious or just weird, and some calling it an underrated masterpiece. The original film, which also starred Penélope Cruz, was a somewhat smaller affair. The plot was the same, as were a lot of the main character beats, and the film was terrific in its own right but the scale never really felt appropriate for the existential weight of what these characters are going through and the climax, as a result, didn't have the punch needed to truly sell its wild concept.
The film opens on a deserted Times Square as David Aames (Tom Cruise) finds himself alone in the city, running down what should be a very busy street at full speed. This turns out to be a dream sequence and we are properly introduced to Cruise's character: a rich, cocky, carefree playboy who is the head of a large publishing company but isn't terribly thoughtful when it comes to relationships, to say the least. He is dating Julie (Cameron Diaz) and considers her a friend-with-benefits despite knowing that she clearly wants something more, he hits on his friend Brian's (Jason Lee) new girlfriend Sofia (Penelope Cruz) whom David instantly becomes genuinely infatuated by. This is a guy who has it all and doesn't seem much in danger of losing it, until the worst happens.
One day, Julie decides to drive her car off the road with David in the passenger seat very much on purpose. What follows is a clever, dizzying merging of dream and reality as an imprisoned David wearing an expressionless mask tries to recount how everything all led to this. As David leads us through his troubling time post-car crash, after which he is thoroughly disfigured, he becomes lost and confused. Julie and Sofia begin to merge into each other in his mind, he starts to feel like he is being watched constantly, manipulated in some way. Did David kill Sofia? Is Julie still alive? Can David truly fix his broken self or is he too far gone?
Vanilla Sky is a gorgeous-looking film with slick cinematography throughout. On the surface it looks like the coziest romantic comedy with its Monet-like skies and warm lightning, yet it's anything but. This exploration of love and life focuses on the sweet and sour aspects of relationships. The regrets and guilt, the heartbreak and pain, the butterflies in one's stomach, it's an emotional journey for these complex characters and we feel every bit of it. The excellent soundtrack helps sell this idea that life is a collection of beautiful, unique and sad things.
Tom Cruise gives one of his very best performances here as David, a charming yet cruel man with two very distinct faces and lots of grey area in between. Cruise plays to his strengths in the beginning as the grinning, wealthy playboy but when things take a dark turn he dives into Eyes Wide Shut territory delivering one of his most nuanced and multilayered performances. You see how David sees himself and others, how his perception changes and how he slowly but surely becomes a better person, even though it might be too late. Cameron Diaz is also fantastic here as the fatally heartbroken Julie and Kurt Russell does a great job with a more down-to-Earth character than we're used to seeing him play. Some of the performances can come off as a little awkward (see Penélope Cruz) but this somehow contributes to the bizarre dream-like universe the film is set in.
This movie can be an almost overwhelming experience at times as dream and reality find themselves intertwined for our main character and faux-twists keep popping up but it's a worthwhile emotional rollercoaster ride as it delivers on all levels. Vanilla Sky is Cameron Crowe's masterpiece. A one-of-a-kind film you will not forget in a hurry and one of the rare remakes that is superior to the original in every way.
Definitely a must-see.