Vanilla Sky

"In a parallel universe we're probably a scorching couple." - Cameron Crowe's Singles

Cameron Crowe has always made movies with characters poised to make a leap into greatness. The characters teeter for a bit doing what they know how to and then they take their chances into the unknown. With Vanilla Sky, Crowe does the same as a filmmaker.

The picture starts out like a heavy Jerry McGuire (also by Crowe) and eventually lurches out into uncertainty. Tom Cruise plays David Aames, the son of a publishing mogul that has inherited 51% of the empire. He plays racquetball with his writer buddy (Jason Lee), shows up to the office late, and screws his actress friend, Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz). All is right in the world of the millionaire playboy until he meets the beautiful and charming Sofia (Penelope Cruz) and discovers true love.

So far we are in the set-up for any Crowe picture. True love awakens the heart of the man focused on everything else. This is where it all goes somewhere Crowe has never taken us. Unbalanced and jilted, Julie gets a little crazy and heads her car off a bridge with David inside. We find that David narrates the story while telling his story to a police psychiatrist (Kurt Russell) from behind a creepy expressionless latex mask.

All the performances are fine, but this is great filmmaking so the actors are secondary. They do what they need to do for Crowe to tell his story without much more fuss than that. This film may herald the return of the importance of script and story above personas and star power. One can dream anyway.

From the trailers one might guess that the picture is basically Fatal Attraction meets The Firm, but it is something else entirely. It's one of those pictures that one fears saying too much about for fear of spoiling it for others. It is Mulholland Drive for the multiplex and frankly Mulholland Drive was a tough fit even at the art house.

A remake of the Spanish Abre Los Ojos, and featuring Cruz in the same role she played in the original, Vanilla Sky confounds while still connecting on some level. After 72 hours of thinking about it I'm not sure if I "liked" the film or even if it was "good". It was powerful and left my head buzzing and made me wish that more films struck a chord in my head and heart instead of going for the gut.

As with all of Crowe's films the picture is strongly textured. Every piece of minutiae is tended to with amazing focus. The themes of the film are all laid out for anyone to see, but never in the shadows or the spotlight, just there to find. Everything from the choice of posters on the wall to cel phone rings are motivated and justified. Even having only my first taste I can tell that this film, like Fight Club, will reward repeated viewings.

This is a film about dreams and about doubling. Everything has a double in this film. There are layers of meaning upon layers. Like a sculpture of mashed potatoes, this means something. A few quick sign posts to help you on your way: Sabrina is on Aames' TV at the start and his wall is dominated by a poster for Jules et Jim, both pictures about two men in love with one girl. Julie's cel phone ring is "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." There are no characters from Ohio in the film. If you've seen the film these might make some sense. Please email me or visit the Talk Back section with any others you caught.

With a film this ambitious and dense, Crowe may have bit off more than he can chew (This is actually complimentary). The director has made four great films previous to this and all of them feel like a breeze. Crowe never seemed to be straining any of his muscles in order to lift what most working directors would be lucky to roll through the door. This time Crowe is looking to build some bulk and some new skills and this film will do just that for him.

Vanilla Sky may be rejected by audiences this year, but will grow in reputation as people come to recognize it. At one point Russell's psychiatrist tells Aames to accept his body's resistance to a repressed memory but allow his mind to understand. This is the best advice that one can give to a viewer of this film. It will be off-putting, one will tense up, but work through this and one will be rewarded. Crowe's reach may have just barely extended past his grasp, but to achieve greatness one must strive for perfection.

What's It Worth? priceless

Jordan Rosa

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