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Vanilla Sky

BE warned this is not your average Tom Cruise vehicle by any stretch of the imagination, and you will need plenty of imagination to comprehend this stylishly-surreal drama.

images from the film Vanilla Sky

ONE look at the advertising for Vanilla Sky and it is clear that the film is being sold on Tom Cruise is being sold as the film.

But be warned this is not your average Cruise vehicle by any stretch of the imagination, and you will need plenty of imagination to comprehend this stylishly-surreal drama.

Writer-director Cameron Crowe has a reputation for delivering entertaining feel-good movies (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire).

With Vanilla Sky it is clear that he wants to hop off the feel-good train and try something a little darker.

In this case, an English language remake of Alejandro Amenábar's 1997 Spanish film Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes).

Cruise stars as David Aames, the excruciatingly smug, spoilt orphan of a media mogul who left him the proverbial keys to the kingdom.

With controlling interests in a major publishing empire, David lives that most popular of adolescent fantasies, the life of the rich playboy, enjoying fast cars and casual sex.

Yet despite the hedonistic lifestyle, David is not in control of himself and is plagued with nagging doubts and seemingly irrational fears of being alone.

This is exemplified early on with a stunning dream sequence, which has him running through a completely deserted Times Square (in reality probably the one place on the face of the Earth where this is impossible).

He meanders through life without really connecting with anyone, or anything.

The closest ties he has are his hero-worshiping best friend Brian Shelby (a wonderfully engaging, yet criminally underused Jason Lee) and a trusted family lawyer Thomas Tipp (Timothy Spall).

However, his neatly ordered dream life is about to turn into a nightmare.

To celebrate turning 33, David throws a swish party at his fabulous New York apartment, but one or two surprises on the guest list will change his life forever.

You see, Brian has brought his new girlfriend along with him, a beautiful dancer named Sofia (Penélope Cruz). One look across a crowded room and, bang, our birthday boy is smitten, ditto for her.

But another unexpected guest is not pleased. The stunning Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) David's casual 'bed-mate'.

Despite what he thinks, Julie treats their 'relationship' as anything but casual.
 Self-centredly unconcerned, David absconds with his new object of affection, where the two share one of those magical, perfect nights that only seem to happen in song or story.

They talk all night and only kiss once to say farewell, realising amongst all their goofy goodbyes that this is something that only comes along once in a lifetime.

Arrrhh, but hang on, before you think you are back into Jerry Maguire country, think again.

Julie interrupts his reverie. She has been stalking him "just a little" and is waiting to literally give him the ride of his life, which ends in a horrific accident leaving David terribly disfigured.

That is where things begin to get really weird, and in all good conscience, no review should give away any more than that.

Crowe gives the audience an impressionistic, surreal world peppered with his usual snappy dialogue and likeable characters.

No mean feat considering that David, on paper, is about as likeable as measles.

Cruise gives a convincing portrayal of the rich brat who begins to fall spectacularly apart.

His beautiful life disintegrates with his loss of looks - with the aid of some remarkable prosthetics and make-up.

And yes, he does manage to prove that he can act without grinning inanely every 20 seconds - even though he sports his trademark pearly whites at every opportunity for the first half-hour.

Diaz gives a wonderful, edgy performance as the menacingly seductive, enraged Julie.

And Cruz is likeably kooky in the same role she played in the original film.

The much publicised on-screen chemistry between the two leads is palpable, and one must say, a little voyeuristically uncomfortable to watch in certain scenes.

Cinematographer John Toll (Braveheart, Captain Corelli's Mandolin,) aids in giving the film a stunning dreamy, surreal quality, which gives a mental nod to a host of pop-culture references, paintings and album artwork.

And Crowe, as usual, selects an evocative soundtrack of pop music for the score.

However, the film suffers from a distinct case of bi-polar disorder.

The mood shifts with alarming unpredictability, and such wild mood swings and gob-smackingly bizarre twists would certainly push anyone over the edge, including the audience.

Though he tries valiantly, Crowe doesn't quite manage to keep a grip on this, and explaining every little detail doesn't really help.

But this is perhaps a forgivable criticism of an otherwise defiantly pleasing, complex, unusual film.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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