Vanilla Sky

USA, 2001

Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee, Tilda Swinton
IMDB: 6.9

Hollywood remakes of foreign films often suck - they take a great film, dumb it down, take out the good bits, and apply the usual Hollywood formula to excrete a pale imitation of the original.

The film that Vanilla Sky is based on, Alejandro Amenabar's Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) is one of my all-time favourite films. And amazingly, so is this. Cameron Crowe took the opportunity to not only remake the movie, but to enhance it as well.

What Crowe brings to the table (aside from translating it from the original Spanish into English) is markedly improved visuals, a killer soundtrack, a large ensemble cast, and a further layering of the plot's surreal aspects. The only downside to this version, in my opinion, is the casting of Tom Cruise in the lead role, whose acting is less realistic than that of Eduardo Noriega in the original. However, as his character is rich, superficial, and arrogant - it's a character-type that Cruise plays well. (Like he did in Magnolia)

When this film was made, complex twisted plots were enjoying huge popularity (Eg: Fight Club, Mulholland Drive, Donnie Darko, Memento). Vanilla Sky very much fits into this style of film-making, being a film with an intelligent science fiction plot, and a density of ideas that only multiple viewings fully reveal.

It also has a distinctly surreal and dream-like atmosphere, which absolutely fits the script once you realise what the film is actually about (which for most viewers would be towards the end of the film).

Being a remake, Crowe can't take credit for the plot, but the main storyline is an incredibly unique and original idea, and in my opinion one of the best sci-fi scripts in recent times.

David Aames (Cruise) is a good looking rich kid who has inherited his father's company and breezes through life with the kind of nonchalance that fabulous wealth affords. Of course he has no trouble with the ladies, and is currently banging his fuck buddy, Julie Gianni (Diaz), not realising that she's taking it much more seriously than he is.

"You fucked me four times last night David. You've been inside me, I've swallowed your cum. That means something!", she shrieks upon discovering that he now has a new infatuation - the free-spirited and down-to-earth, Sofia (Penelope Cruz).

David is immediately smitten and falls head over heels for her. Cruz here is extremely charming, and makes the love-at-first-sight angle totally believable. It beats me why she gets such a bad rap from some critics. The movie briefly enters romance territory here, which helps explain the motivations for David's later actions.

What happens next is a twisted love triangle between Cruise, Cruz and Diaz - which has terrible consequences for the rich boy ... consequences that he tries to buy his way out of.

How he does this however, is not revealed until the end of the film, at which point the viewer realises that at least half of the film was not what it appeared to be. (Although you can have fun on repeat watches spotting the clues).

Without giving too much away, David begins hallucinating to the point where we can never be sure exactly what his reality truly is, and by extension what the film's reality is. This results in an awesomely twisted sex scene involving himself Julie and Sofia, a romantic entanglement more metaphysical than physical, but all the more poignant for it. And lets be honest here, if you're going to hallucinate, sharing your bed with Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz is not a bad way to go!

As mentioned, the supporting cast is impressive. Tilda Swinton, Jason Lee, Timothy Spall, and Noah Taylor all have small but memorable appearances. Kurt Russell is also excellent here, and gets one of the most jaw-dropping scenes when he realises that he's not at all who he thought he was. That scene just blows my mind every time.

As readers of this blog will note, I am a huge fan of movies with great soundtracks, and considering that Cameron Crowe is an ex-Rolling Stone journalist with a long history in the music industry - its not at all surprising that he's pulled together an excellent and diverse group of songs that are both meaningful and sonically excellent.

Any director that finds a way to include the little known gem from The Rolling Stones 'Tattoo You' album (Heaven) has really got their musical shit sorted as far as I'm concerned. But additionally there are choice cuts from Sigur Ros, Radiohead, REM, Thievery Corporation, Underworld, The Chemical Bros, Bob Dylan, U2 and more.

Even the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations in the penultimate scene provides an unexpectedly well-suited atmosphere as Cruise desperately calls for "Tech Support !!!!!!". Another killer scene in a movie that has quite a few.

Undoubtedly Crowe labored long and hard over the soundtrack - its not just the song selection, but the way they've been used which is impressive.

The critics were divided over this film, but its IMDB rating has been slowly creeping up as it reaches the kind of moviegoer who will appreciate it. It's certainly not the kind of film that your average (popcorn) Cruise fan will expect, and perhaps that was part of the problem. I also suspect that many viewers who would really like this film were put off by his involvement.

If you have not seen this film yet, do yourself a favour and check it out. Don't be put off by the film's poster/cover art which in my opinion was an epic fail. It doesn't convey the quality, the intelligence, nor the type of film it is at all, and certainly won't attract the audience who would best appreciate it.

I'm a total sucker for mindfuck movies with killer soundtracks, so my rating is ...

10/10. No question.

PS: Also, check out the original, Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes).


Hans A. said...

Very nice review. I'm quite a fan of this film, also. I was fortunate to see it on the big screen during its original theatrical run which really highlighted its often impressive visuals. I love Cruz, too. This was a fairly bold role choice for her, considering her role in the original. She's excellent, as is Diaz. This was a good role for Cruise with this an Eyes Wide Shut and Collateral, for example, and it shows a willingness to take riskier roles. Again, great review, and I always enjoy visiting and reading.

Japan Cinema said...

yeah this film gets such a bad rap and I am sure it'll be better than Knight & Day. Loved this flick.


@Hans - I wish I could have seen this in the theatre, that must've really kicked ass! Agree with you re:Cruise, love him or hate him, he chose some very good movies to appear in at the start of the decade.

@JapanCinema - I know! Some people really don't like this movie. Maybe its the fact that the plot is so convoluted, some people just don't like that style. Can't say I like the looks of Knight & Day myself either - perhaps those who hate VS will like K&D better though.

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