Directed by Cameron Crowe, starring Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Kurt Russell.
What do you give the man who has everything? Answer: a life. That's the starting point for 'Vanilla Sky', Cameron Crowe's faithful "cover version" of the Spanish film 'Open Your Eyes' and a major left turn for a director who's made his name with feelgood fare.
With grin firmly in place and hair just so, Cruise plays David Aames, a man for whom New York is just one never-ending playground. Having inherited his father's publishing empire, he takes the playboy concept to the hilt, shirking work, meaningful relationships and the consequences of his actions. About to turn 33, his latest conquest is Julie Gianni (Diaz), a struggling starlet whose reading between the lines of moments between the sheets has convinced her that David is ready to settle down.
That illusion is almost surgically removed at his birthday party when David meets Sofia (Cruz, reprising her role from the original), a dancer whom he describes as "the last semi-guileless girl in New York" and one who attaches even less importance to his status than he does. He escorts her home and for a couple of hours manages to leave his vanity and baggage with the city outside. But the next morning Julie is waiting for David across the street and when he accepts her offer of a lift home, he has no idea how long the journey will prove to be.
In the course of every day you probably hear a hundred instances of what if, why not and because in your head, Crowe's movie is a chance to see them onscreen and explore the theory that a new life is only a second away. It's roller coaster filmmaking as he changes tracks and moves from one genre to another, taking you from thriller to love story to surreal psychological drama and then pulling on the brakes when you least expect. You'll scratch your head, wipe your eyes and wind your jaw back as the characters come face to face with their missed, half and second chances. Some will love it, others will hate it, either way you'll have plenty to talk about afterwards.
Through all his films from 'Say Anything' to last year's 'Almost Famous' Crowe has shown himself to be a maser at depicting relationships and 'Vanilla Sky' is no exception. The scenes between Cruise and Cruz are beautifully handled, their first fateful meeting brimming with endless possibilities as they hold the type of conversation people wish could open and close any date. While critics have argued that Cruz's performance in an English-speaking film is yet again underwhelming, it's difficult to see how she could improve on her turn as the "clever girl in a big silly coat".
As for her beau, it's a solid if unremarkable performance. His onscreen anguish grates on occasion (if Cruise's character has a hard time accepting that he's been disfigured in a car crash then so too do the audience) but Crowe never lets it spoil the momentum of any scene. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Kurt Russell, long associated with also-ran action movies, here he plays totally against type as a psychologist who's sent in to find out how it all went wrong for David Aames. The sparks and revelations ricochet between doctor and patient and it's difficult to see why Crowe didn't introduce more scenes for the duo to share.
It can be argued that Crowe's treatment of the themes of dreams versus reality and accident versus design can comes across as too heavy handed, but it's easy to forgive when the results look so great. He may recycle key set pieces from the original but the opening sequence in a deserted Times Square is a real treat and he follows it up with other great shots which resemble a love letter to a city where anything is possible. Throw in the numerous pop culture references and a soundtrack which uncannily echoes the sentiments onscreen and there's no doubt that Crowe has broken the mould of what was expected of him as a director and made the mile wide jump from two-hour film to two-hour experience.
You mightn't see its like from mainstream Hollywood for some time.