Vanilla Sky (2001) Movie Review

Vanilla Sky

Title: Vanilla Sky
Year: 2001
Genre: Fantasy/Mystery/Romance
Play time: 2h 16min
Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Kurt Russell, Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Jason Lee

  “I was one second away from death and your life flashed before my eyes.”

Vanilla Sky is based on Abre Los Ojos, or “Open Your Eyes,” a very cool Spanish mind-fuck of a movie that has earned a cult audience here in the states, partly on the grounds that it stars crossover actress Penelope Cruz. This remake/update also stars Cruz, in the same role she played in the original. It also happens to star Tom Cruise, which makes the plot take on a new dimension. No Tom Cruise movie, of course, can be short and efficient, and Vanilla Sky is more drawn-out, less grippingly frightening than the film it mimics. It remains afloat on the strength of the twisty, surprising plot and the sure-footed direction by Cameron Crowe, who makes his first foray into the thriller genre.

Cruise in the Role of Casanova in Vanilla Sky

Cruise is David Aames, a rich pretty-boy magazine publisher known for never sleeping with the same girl twice. His best friend, played by Jason Lee, is pissed because Aames has a penchant for stealing his women, and as the movie opens, Aames has his sights on his friend’s newest find: a striking girl named Sofia (Penelope Cruz). He spends the night at her place, and upon exiting finds that his previous interest, a somewhat neurotic Julie (Cameron Diaz), has followed him. She pesters him to get in the car and drive home with her, then proceeds to hurl them both off a precipice, killing herself and leaving David grotesquely disfigured.

Having spent most of his life coasting (respectfully note that I did not wrote “cruising”) on his good looks, David is at a loss. He falls into a depression, viciously lashing out at the doctors who did their best to salvage his tissue, able to do no better than have his face look only vaguely human. Sofia, clearly distraught, backs off, and even his best friend sees him as a different person. After a particularly depressing outing, he passes out on the sidewalk, drunk and downtrodden.

Things Get Really Strange

It is very difficult to review this film without venturing into territory that would ruin the movie for first-time viewers. I will be careful. But it must be said that the advertising for Vanilla Sky is (quite intentionally) misleading; the general opinion seems to be that it’s some weepie about Tom Cruise losing his good looks when, in fact, it is a bizarre mix of sci-fi and psychodrama. The script dares you to outguess it and, when you don’t, makes you groan and wonder how you could have missed the little hints it drops.

Tom Cruise Does a Nice Job in Vanilla Sky

Vanilla Sky is an enjoyable experience whether or not you have seen the original. It retains the all-out weirdness of the Alejandro Amenabar project (Amenabar burst onto the American scene last year with The Others) and even adds to it in spots; the crucial ending is extended, with all sorts of little Cameron Crowe idiosyncrasies thrown in for good measure. And even when the plot’s writhing and twisting sends it into what seems like utterly non-sense territory, the movie still works because it’s so strange and unexpected. This is one instance where I think logic would have been completely unnecessary.

I liked Tom Cruise in this — he does a nice job of dismantling parts of his public image; he is the last actor I would expect to play someone with a disfigured face — but his presence is also a detriment. Being a Tom Cruise movie, Vanilla Sky is self-involved, and longer than it should be, losing some of the raw suspense that made Open Your Eyes such an amazing thriller. The egoes of some of the people involved prevent this from being the transcendent experience than it should have been; it’s good, but it’s not important.

Still, I suppose I should be thankful for the big names involved, as they are the only ones that could have brought such a gratifyingly daffy project into the mainstream. Vanilla Sky could have been better, but it couldn’t have been bad.

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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