Open your eyes. Film-goers everywhere are about to wake up from the nightmare known as the 2001 box office and dive into the dream world known as “Vanilla Sky.”
The film that has, up until now, been known by some as the remake of Alejandro Amenabar’s “Abre Los Ojos” and by most as the film that wrecked the star home of the decade is about to leave all of that behind. Open your eyes: the goods have arrived.
David Aames (Tom Cruise, “Magnolia”) is a prince of New York City — great apartment, sizeable income, and a relationship with a blond beauty (Cameron Diaz, “Charlie’s Angles”) that is based more in the sack than in the heart. At least it is to him.
He’s not a bad guy; he takes care of his employees, has a lot of friends (including, oddly, Steven Speilberg and the always-charismatic Jason Lee) and has a certain spirit to him.
He also has flaws, but that’s what makes him real — and that’s what makes “Vanilla Sky” soar. Writer/director Cameron Crowe (“Jerry Maguire”) once again stylishly flaunts his ability to create realistic, multi-dimensional characters both in words, images and sometimes even silences.
Case in point: Aames’ affections quickly change focus to his best friend’s girl of choice, Sophia (Penelope Cruz, “Blow”). Cruz, who has done little more then recited lines and looked pretty in her American films, actually impresses in “Vanilla Sky” — a credit to the fact that she is reprising her role from the original, but to Crowe again as well.
Having evoked an emotional punch of a performance from America’s spark plug, Kate Hudson, last fall in “Almost Famous,” Crowe has a knack for getting the most out of his less-than-remarkable actresses.
In addition, Diaz’s emotionally unstable yet somehow sympathy-inducing blondie gives the battle cry of single women everywhere as she explains to her commitment-phobic friend-with-benefits that casual sex is not that simple. She ends it with the exclamation point of driving herself and Aames off a bridge, disfiguring his face and destroying his once-storybook life.
From there the film takes off, zipping through genres, twisting storylines and amazing all the way. The playfully innocent yet chemically charged romance between Cruise and Cruz lights up the screen and becomes the binding steady beat in a film that dances in thriller, drama, mystery and even sci-fi.
Cruise, who has never been a stranger to pushing the Hollywood envelope (“Interview With A Vampire,” “Eye Wide Shut,” “Magnolia”), once again manages to reinvent without losing the mainstream vibe.
Donning heavy synthetic face make-up as well as a mask for part of the film, Cruise has only his acting to fall back on. Here, more noticeably than before, perhaps due to the lack of his million-dollar smile, he not only succeeds in driving the film forward, he actually impresses.
It is hard to believe that the man who brought us “Say Anything” is the mastermind behind such a genre-bending, question-raising, entertaining film. But then again, the strengths of Crowe’s “Say Anything” — clean script, well-developed characters, perfectly matched soundtrack and memorable scenes — are at the heart of “Vanilla Sky.”
And the man is not a gambler by any means. He revamped an already intriguing foreign film, enlisted some top-notch talent and went to work. He is also not taking any chances with audience intelligence.
“Vanilla Sky” tricks as much as it treats and has a not-so-simple mystery to it. But in the end, it answers all the questions it raises in terms of story, and the few social-relevancy queries are left for the car ride home.
For the self-proclaimed film buff, the one who only claims to have understood “Mulholland Drive,” “Vanilla Sky” is this year’s dream come true. It is a thinking movie, but one that ties up relatively nicely in the end. The genre-bending story and performances shine, but it is the writer/director who remains the true star of the film. Open your eyes, ears and mind — Crowe will fascinate them all.