Open Your Eyes (1997) Movie Review

Having seen Cameron Crowe’s American remake of Spaniard Alejandro Amenabar’s “Open Your Eyes” first, it’s inevitable that I would make the mistake of comparing “Open Your Eyes” to “Vanilla Sky” and not the other way around (as is the correct way). When considering the two movies, it’s not a question of what did Crowe change, but rather what he didn’t change. The two movies are almost identical, and Crowe has essentially shot his film using Amenabar and Mateo Gil’s original screenplay with some additions of his own. And the fact that co-star Penelope Cruz plays the same character in both movies is probably admittance on Crowe’s part that he’s not trying to invent the wheel, but merely improve on it.

“Open Your Eyes” stars Eduardo Noriega (“The Devil’s Backbone”) as Cesar, a 25-year old playboy who treats his women like dirt. That is, until he meets Sofia (Penelope Cruz), the present girlfriend of Cesar’s best friend Pelayo (Fele Martinez). After a night of intimate conversation and mutual attraction, Cesar is intercepted on the street by his latest sexual conquest, Nuria (Najwa Nimri), who invites him for a drive. Psycho Nuria proves her psychopathic inclinations by driving into a wall, killing herself and turning Cesar’s face into Swiss cheese. Now disfigured, Cesar tries to win back Sofia, but how do you win over a beautiful woman when you look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame? Worst, we discover that we’re seeing the story in flashback form, and that Cesar is presently in a psychiatric hospital awaiting his murder trial!

Off the bat, let me just say that I’ve never seen an American remake of a foreign film that is as faithful as Crowe’s remake of Amenabar’s movie. Besides the change of scenery (New York City for Madrid Spain) and leading man (Tom Cruise for Eduardo Noriega), both films have the same leading lady (Penelope Cruz in both). It’s inevitable that I should compare the two films, since I probably need to explain my reasoning for giving Crowe’s version a better grade than Amenabar’s. The answer to that particular question is a simple one: Crowe is 15 years older than Amenabar, who was 25 when he directed “Open Your Eyes.” Also, Crowe has the advantage of being able to find problems in “Open Your Eyes” and fix it in his version. It’s a question of hindsight — Amenabar didn’t have it, Crowe does.

That isn’t to say “Open Your Eyes” is a problematic film, it’s just that Crowe’s version is a lot more nuance and, with the aid of hindsight, has been able to add pieces here and there to flesh out holes Amenabar probably didn’t realize existed. Whereas “Open Your Eyes” really takes a drastic shift in genre at the hour mark seemingly without warning, Crowe has provided us with hints and clues so that the genre shift doesn’t completely seem impossible. Also, whereas “Eyes” makes mention of the lead character’s power struggle with his company, “Sky” develops the angle into a full-blown conspiracy to aid in the illusion that the main character is more than a little paranoid.

As to leading man, there’s no doubt that Tom Cruise overpowers Noriega in the role. Besides the fact that Noriega doesn’t have nearly the experience Cruise does, Noriega sometimes looks lost in the film’s more dramatic scenes. Also, the screenplay for “Open Your Eyes” really doesn’t bother with Cesar’s life, his fortune, or even his restaurant business. (We only know he’s in the restaurant business because he makes mention of it once.) Whereas we feel as if we know Cruise’s David intimately, mostly because Crowe takes the time to flesh out his background. We see Cesar as a womanizer, but we never know how he got to be that way. The differences between the two characters may seem trivial at first look, but on closer scrutiny there is an ocean of difference. Even the best friend role is much more fleshed out in Crowe’s version. This is what I mean by having the advantage of hindsight.

Also, the themes of consequence and responsibility are less obvious in “Eyes”, which sometimes seems to be nothing more than a clever Head Trip movie without much to say. Sofia fell in love with Cesar when he was handsome, and fell out of love when he’s not. As in “Sky”, the Sofia character is not the perfect woman both Cesar and his best friend Pelayo believed she was. Like everyone else, she’s only too human, and the whole notion of “love conquers all” is ultimately dispelled.

Of the two versions, there’s no doubt “Vanilla Sky” is the more mature work if one can ignore for one moment that Amenabar provided the original source material. While you can see Amenabar’s sure handling here, he’s grown by leaps and bounds with “The Others”, but even that movie is still just an inkling of what he can do, and will do, as he matures.

Ironically, Amenabar’s growth as a filmmaker can best be compared to Cameron Crowe, who went from “Say Anything” in the ’80s to “Singles” and “Jerry Maguire” in the ’90s. Right now Amenabar is most concern with style and clever premises, as obvious in both “Open Your Eyes” and “The Others”, but deep substance is somewhere around the corner for this filmmaker.

Alejandro Amenabar (director) / Alejandro Amenabar, Mateo Gil (screenplay)
CAST: Eduardo Noriega …. C’sar
Pen’lope Cruz …. Sofía
Chete Lera …. Antonio
Fele Martínez …. Pelayo
Najwa Nimri …. Nuria