Vanilla Sky

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 02/11/02 23:32:15

"Short-changes the audience"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Previous to 'Vanilla Sky' a remake of Alejandro Amnebars Spanish thriller, 'Open Your Eyes', Cameron Crowe has made a name for himself as a master of sweet, character driven pieces. 'Jerry Maguire', 'Almost Famous' etc give everyone a nice blast of the warm'n'fuzzies. But 'Vanilla Sky' is something different. It's cold and dark. Disturbing even. And it's also a goddamn mess.

The 'plot' (and I use that term loosely for reasons that will become clear) revolves around the life of New York whizz-kid David Aames (Tom Cruise). He has it all- he's rich, handsome, successful, popular and he's banging Julie Giovanni (Cameron Diaz) on a regular basis without ever committing to her. But then he meets Sofia (Penelope Cruz) and he's entranced by her, cruelly running off with her at a party in front of Julie. But Julie doesn't take this too well, and exacts a nasty revenge on David, leaving him scarred and bitter. Which is when the film gets really screwy. Characters shift and change identity, David can't decide which events are true and which are false and all the while he's on trial for the murder of Sofia. Who now looks like Julie...

It sounds like a terrific premise for a thriller as an unseen force rages against an innocent man. But it had one major problem for me. I didn't have one bit of sympathy for Aames. This is after all a man who has just about everything anyone could want for and still acts like a cunt. He's surly, selfish, thinks nothing of stealing Sofia from his best friend (Jason Lee) right in front of Julie. And we're supposed to feel sorry for the sonofabitch when people turn on him? Sorry, but no! This lack of sympathy isn't helped by Cruise either. Tom Cruise is an actor who I just can't buy, with the exception of a couple of roles.He only ever has two things going on behind his eyes: a dollar sign, or a little gold Oscar. And boy does he go for the statue here: he rants, he raves, he wears a disfiguring mask, he annoys the hell out of everyone.

He's outdone in the bad acting stakes however by his namesake and other half. Penelope Cruz is truly the actress with the biggest amount of publicity for the least amount of talent. She can barely speak English without mangling the dialogue all over the place. And frankly she's not even that foxy. Why Aames chooses her over Julie I could never fathom. So when a film has a couple of totally unattractive leads you know it's in trouble. The only people to take any credit from the mess is Diaz, who nails the fruitloop part and the ever-excellent Jason Lee. If it had focused on these characters it would have been a different, and better, story.

The only other person I would give some credit to in this is Crowe himself. That's Crowe as a director however, and not as a writer. His screenplay alternates between unwieldy, confused and stupid. As a director he's on top form. He makes great use of height and space (the justly lauded Times Square sequence) and one use of sudden silence deserves the plaudit 'deafening'. It's so effective that I even thought the projector had broke.

So why with a couple of good performances and some great direction did I hate this film so much? Because it treats the audience like idiots. It teases the audience down the path, pulls it onto another before finally shouting "Ha! This is what it's really about!". It's incredibly insulting to throw in the solution to the puzzle that makes no sense at all. Worst of all the final twist and explanation is rushed and when it comes down to it, just plain...silly.

I have no problem with a film teasing the audience with bits of clues that become red herrings. 'The Sixth Sense' did the same but had resolution that kept within the films logic. 'Being John Malkovich' was even more off-the-wall than this, but even that had a sense of control that made it seem grounded. 'Vanilla Sky' doesn't. It's so desperate to make itself clever in front of the audience it just alienates them. Imagine if the conclusion to 'The Sixth Sense' was that it was all a coma induced Bruce Willis dream. It would have the same effect as the climax to the 'Vanilla Sky' conclusion.

It strives for profundity and falls far, far short clutching at incomprehension instead. It wants to give the audience something to chew on as they make their way home, like 'Magnolia' or 'American Beauty' did. But the only thing the audience is likely to be chewing on is a McDonalds as they try to get the nasty taste of Vanilla out of their mouth.

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