Vanilla Sky (SE)/ C+, A
Paramount/2001/135/ANA 1.85

     You can hear the whispered phrase "Open your eyes" repeated in the background in a number of scenes. What does it mean? Does it mean, look at yourself? See what's around you? Open your eyes? What is it trying to communicate? I suppose if you have a clear answer to the question you have the key for the movie. Vanilla Sky is a remake of the very successful Spanish film, Open Your Eyes, which also co-starred Penelope Cruz. While I made a conscious effort to divorce myself from memories of my of that film feeling that Vanilla Sky should live on its own terms, in the background the haunting "Open your eyes" proved a strong reminder.
     David Aames is living out the power dream. Inheriting the mantle of his father's empire, David runs his board with and his life with cavalier style. Aames is possessed by himself, by his power, by his looks, by his intelligence. Everything revolves around him in his universe. Vanilla Sky examines his life when circumstances don't go exactly as he would choose.    

An uninvited guest. ©Paramount

     Criss-crossed by a barrage of philosophical thematic strains, Vanilla Sky is an  intellectually ambitious film. One of the stronger ideas playing out is voiced by David Aames' best buddy Brian: Without the bitter, the sweet ain't as sweet. Does Aames need to suffer to truly realize the wonders of life?  Primarily, this is a tale of what is reality. There's almost a hint of solipsism, the idea that the only thing you can really know for certain is that you exist. Vanilla Sky is an examination of what truly makes the man. Is Vanilla Sky about vanity? Is it about life catching up with you? Is it the man inside or the man outside? Do someone's looks have the power to change someone's behavior? I am not certain how definitively the thematic material plays. Certainly, the disfigured David Aames is an embittered man, whereas the pre-accident Aames is the rich spoiled brat with no concern for other people. But the disfigured David also only cares about himself. He really doesn't change. It's that his possibilities change. Every passing minute is another chance to turn it around. It's some sense of seize the day philosophy.
     I guess you'd call Vanilla Sky an allegorical science fiction tale. Right from the get-go there are strong hints that something in the world of Vanilla Sky is amiss, but the fragments flash by so quickly they almost fail to support the later revelations. There are strong suggestions of what is real and what is not, but exactly what is going is not clear. That's okay, but it's actually confusing and that's not okay.
     The film seems out of balance. Romantic elements dominate the film and some of the more mysterious aspects fade into the background. The initial meeting between David and Sofia is far too coy. Far too much ambling celluloid is spent on the David/Sofia romance. The film is not a romance. And the romance is pure soap. It's slow moving despite the potential tension. It plays light a man walking through waist deep water.
    Directed by Cameron Crowe from his screenplay adaptation of the original script of Alejandro Amenabar and Mateo Gil, there's never any doubt that Crowe believes in the material. (Leave it to director Crowe to slip in an homage to Billy Wilder at the very beginning of Vanilla Sky as David Aames shuts off the television before leaving his apartment. Crowe did a wonderful interview book on Wilder.) But somehow, Vanilla Sky seems to overpower the strong creative forces at work. While this is a very glossy film with first-rate production values, there's something smug about it, a self-satisfied sense of empowerment, much like the early scenes depicting David Aames. I certainly don't know much about prosthetic masks, but I can tell you that the mask that David Aames gets from his high-powered plastic surgeons looks like it's made of porcelain. David actually looks better without the mask. Maybe I missed some subtle message buried under the highly artificial mask.
     Tom Cruise is an effective David Aames. He has no difficulty in projecting the confident, rich, vain and arrogant young man sitting atop a publishing empire.  He can smile with the best of them. He does anger well enough. I like Penelope Cruz. She's okay as Sofia, but I tend to like her more in her Spanish language roles. She certainly plays Sofia too cute and perhaps it is in part a measure of language. She possess a seductive charm in her Spanish language roles that's totally missing here. Cameron Diaz is very strange as Julie Gianni. Jason Lee is a minor annoyance as David's best friend Brian The relationship does not get fleshed out enough to justify some of the implications. Kurt Russell is good enough in the role of court psychiatrist.
      Paramount has delivered a DVD with all the beauty of the original theatrical luster perfectly preserved. Vanilla Sky shows off an extraordinary range of color. Saturation is excellent yet delicate colors retain their subtlety. Images are scrupulously sharp without artificial edginess. Background details come to vivid life. The paintings in David's apartment a real treat. The very bright transfer has excellent contrast range. The lighting comes off great with a wonderful range of shadow detail. Dialogue is easy to understand and surround mix creates a natural ambiance. Good balance to the music as well. Incredible musical sound stage with grand three-dimensional feeling.
    Paramount's special edition of Vanilla Sky includes enthusiastic audio commentary from director Crowe and composer Nancy Wilson (Mrs. Crowe). One wonders what kind of clout it took to get Times Square closed down for three hours one early Sunday November 2000 morning, as Crowe relates,  just so David Aames could feel the sense of isolation beginning to envelope his rich boy's world. Crowe peppers his comments with classics films references derived from an impressive knowledge base. The Crowes even slip in a surprise telephone call to Tom Cruise. Overall, the very relaxed commentary is like a visit to the Crowes.  In addition, there are two featurettes, a Paul McCartney interview (McCartney wrote the title song.), a music video, and an unreleased teaser trailer.




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