Vanilla Sky (2001) Movie Review

Having more in common with “The Matrix” than writer/director Cameron Crowe’s own “Jerry Maguire”, “Vanilla Sky” is another in a recent trend of Head Trip movies, where things aren’t what they seem, and the Third Act consists of the Search for the Truth and, in the end, the Big Reveal explains all. Head Trip movies can only end in two ways: with the Big Reveal at movie’s end, or the director can slip on his pretentious shoes and give us an Ambiguous Ending. I won’t tell you what type of ending “Vanilla Sky” employs, since I’ve probably already spoiled a lot of its twists by now. (But hey, the film was released 2 years ago and if you haven’t see this movie already, I’ll assume you aren’t hot to trot to see it in the first place, hence any possible spoilers won’t completely ruin your day.)

Tom Cruise stars as David Aames, a spoiled rich 30-something magazine tycoon who has everything he wants, including a handsome face, fast cars, and beautiful and loose women. One of those loose women is the somewhat off-kilter Julie (Cameron Diaz), who claims to not want a relationship, but it’s obvious she’s lying out of the side of her insanely cartoonish smile. (How freaky is Diaz’s laugh, by the way?) David’s only real best friend is Brian (Jason Lee), a writer who comes to David’s birthday party with possible love interest Sofia (Penelope Cruz). David immediately falls heads over heels for Sofia, and after a night of getting to know each other, David has an epiphany: he has never been truly in love until he met Sofia.

After leaving Sofia’s apartment, David is intercepted by Julie, who looks more off-kilter than usual, but still manages to talk him into a ride in her car. Before the ride ends, Julie has confessed her love for David and committed vehicular suicide with David literally along for the ride. Scarred and disfigured from Julie’s idea of payback, David’s life is suddenly in turmoil. No longer handsome and no longer so sure of himself and his lot in life, David also has to contend with a hostile administrative board trying to take over his company. In short, David’s life is unraveling before his eyes. To makes matters worst, it seems we’ve been seeing all of this in flashback, and that David is currently in a prison cell awaiting his murder trial!

Based on the movie “Open Your Eyes” (or “Abre Los Ojos”) by Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar (“The Others”), “Vanilla Sky” is a pretty standard Head Trip movie no matter how you look at it. Its first half, and even some of its Second Half, plays out as a normal film, with only glimpses of weirdness to help ease us into the film’s completely weird Third Act. We learn quickly that David is trying to uncover the secrets of his murder trial with the help of a police psychiatrist played by Kurt Russell (“The Thing”). The film plays out in flashback form, although Cameron Crowe isn’t concern with fancy flashback wipes and cuts. There are no jarring cuts between the past and present, and Crowe maintains this same level of control throughout the film. The soundtrack isn’t bad either.

“Vanilla Sky” has ambitions of being more than a standard Head Trip movie, but really, it isn’t. Its notions of consequences and not taking responsibility for one’s actions are easily grasped, and as a result these points aren’t worth taking up a whole movie to discover. The film’s best moments revolve around the romance between real-life lovers Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz, who actually played the exact same character in Amenabar’s 1997 original before packing her things and moving to Hollywood. If you’re squeamish about watching an exuberant amount of PDA (public displays of affection, which is what half of this movie amounts to) then avoid “Vanilla Sky”, because Cruise and Cruz are all over each other.

Because “Vanilla Sky” is first and foremost a Head Trip movie, there’s a lot of things about it that needs to been twice or even three times to really see and get. Photos, TV shirts, and background characters that at first seem like faceless extras but turns out to be something more, all flash by without calling attention to themselves. Of course, as the film gets closer and closer toward its Big Reveal/Ambiguous Ending, the clues start coming faster and more often. It’s the filmmakers’ way of hinting that something big is coming, and that it’s time to pay attention.

The entire film is very clever and the Big Reveal is interesting. The film’s seemingly odd take on technology seems a bit strange at first, but eventually resolves itself. (Hint: Notice the holographic musician early on.) It was also nice to see Kurt Russell, a favorite of mine, doing more than a bit part in a big film. Tom Cruise does seem to have gained in spirits what he lost in terms of P.R. when he split from long-time wife Nicole Kidman (“Moulin Rouge”) for the younger Cruz. The lovefest between team Cruise and Cruz is akin to a sugar overdose, unless you like that kind of thing. I didn’t mind it, mostly because Cruz is such a nice face to look at, not to mention having such an incredibly charming personality.

There have been a lot of talk about how confusing “Vanilla Sky” is, but I don’t see why. The film is very straightforward, and its Head Trip moments are all very plainly spelled out. What’s there to be confused about? It’s not like anything that takes place before the Big Reveal means a damn thing anyway. Oops, hope I didn’t spoil things.

Cameron Crowe (director) / Cameron Crowe, Alejandro Amenabar, Mateo Gil (screenplay)
CAST: Tom Cruise …. David Aames
Pen’lope Cruz …. Sofia Serrano
Cameron Diaz …. Julie Gianni
Kurt Russell …. Dr. Curtis McCabe
Jason Lee …. Brian Shelby

Buy Vanilla Sky on DVD