Saturday 24 December 2011

Movie Review: Vanilla Sky (2001)

In a remake of the 1997 Spanish film Open Your Eyes, Tom Cruise disfigures his face in a bizarre science fiction romance that alternates between magical moments and utter incoherence. Vanilla Sky ultimately pulls itself together, but cannot fully discard an annoying aura of irritating smugness.

David Aames (Cruise) has inherited the vast riches of his father's publishing empire, and he is enjoying the playboy life of being young, handsome and wealthy in New York. Model Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) is David's friend with benefits who wishes that she was more, while author Brian Shelby (Jason Lee) is perhaps David's one true buddy.

Brian shows up at one of David's parties with new acquaintance Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz), and a connection immediately takes hold between Sofia and David. They spend the night talking and falling in love with an unfamiliar intensity, but the following morning David gets into Julie's car, and she intentionally drives off a bridge, killing herself and horribly disfiguring David.

The rehabilitation of David involves depression, re-constructive surgery, wearing a face mask, sessions with psychologist Dr. McCabe (Kurt Russell), and the technology of cryonic suspension through the services of the mysterious Life Extension corporation. Although he appears to salvage the relationship with Sofia, David's dejection, guilt and paranoia start to severely affect his mind, and sorting out reality from imagination becomes increasingly difficult.

Director Cameron Crowe leaves behind his normal emphasis on small human moments and overcomplicates Vanilla Sky by mixing David's flashbacks with scenes of his reality and others manufactured by his imagination. While the unhinged structure and highly artistic style maintain interest, the film is a puzzle that gets progressively more annoying rather than challenging. Just when Vanilla Sky threatens to collapse in a heap of fragmented bombast, it is rescued by a solid and emotionally fulfilling final 20 minutes that deciphers David's ordeal in a futuristic package.

Tom Cruise co-produced, and the intention of highlighting his acting talent by hiding behind a hideous facial disfigurement could not have been too far from his mind. Cruise's career will always be remembered more for his looks than his acting, a curse that handsome stars have to live with. He is a more than adequate performer, but his concentration and talent simply cannot compete with his natural charisma and the megawatt smile. His non-disfigured scenes with Cruz generate the genuine warmth of two souls falling in love that no amount of acting behind scars or a mask can match.

Cruz and Diaz bring their attractive personalities to Vanilla Sky, Cruz all coquettish Europeanisms and Diaz brash blondness dancing on the perimeter of the self-destruct button.

Vanilla Sky captivates and enthralls, agitates, bewilders and baffles. The journey is worthwhile, but it is not without some unfortunately befuddling moments.

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