Vanilla Sky

Rated: R
Stars:   Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Jason Lee, Kurt Russell, Noah Taylor
Director:    Cameron Crowe
Writer:   Cameron Crowe, from the original film “Abre los Ojos” (“Open Your Eyes” – 1997), written by Alejandro Amenabar

Pack the passport because this film is a trip. And the road you will travel, although seemingly confusing and perhaps a little rocky, is always intriguing. Vanilla Sky merges romance with suspense and even a little bit of science fiction. Dreams and reality are exhaustively intermingled. But in the end you will be safely transported home, knowing the journey was well worth taking.

Tom Cruise plays David Aames, an heir to a publishing empire in New York City. He’s handsome, ridiculously rich, irreverent, vain and more than a little bit egotistical. He’s having a casual sexual relationship with Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), an insanely jealous model. After David becomes enamored with a dancer, Sofia Serrano (a lusciously cute Penelope Cruz), brought to his birthday party by best friend Brian (Jason Lee), Julie takes on the role of rejected mate while Brian plays the pained second banana. You know Brian has been there many times before with David. As for David, for the first time in his rich, dreamy life, he’s actually falling in love. It’s a lovely little romance up till this point but when the crazed Julie tries to kill herself and David by driving her car off a bridge the story goes exquisitely topsy-turvy. She ends up dead and he’s a facially mutilated mess.

The film is told in flashbacks from prison by a latex-masked David, accused of a murder and recounting his sorrowful tale to court-appointed psychologist McCabe (Kurt Russell). But we’re left wondering whose murder. Reality and time are sufficiently skewed to keep us confused but nonetheless, intrigued. Did Julie really die in the car crash; did David kill anyone at all and are his circumstances the result of a conspiracy by his despised Board of Directors? McCabe begs David to reveal himself but it’s not something that David can readily do. With his face masked, sadly, a good part of Tom Cruise’s performance is also hidden. But there’s a reason for that as well because we are never sure if David’s face has been repaired as some scenes suggest. It’s all part of a well-scripted tale whose explanations are revealed in the final moments. Perhaps at another time, I might have called such a ploy a copout but in this instance, it works, beautifully.

Cruise has taken some heat for supposedly being out of his element in this film as has director Crowe. But I disagree. I found his performance workmanlike and more than up to the task and Crowe’s direction equally good. If anything, Crowe displays far more directorial prowess here than he did in “Almost Famous” which I found particularly boring. Cruise and Cruz display good chemistry in and out of the bedroom while Cameron Diaz is quite strong as the unhinged Julie. The only unfortunate role goes to Kurt Russell – there’s simply not enough of him and I hoped for more.

Lotta says Vanilla Sky plays more like a rainbow, a delight to the senses. (FYI: the title of the film refers to a painting by Monet, featured in David’s apartment.)

Reviewed 12/14/01