Soft Spot Cinema – Vanilla Sky

I think the first thing I should admit is that I haven’t seen the film Open Your Eyes, the original and acclaimed Spanish production that paved the way for the American remake.

I’ve seen Vanilla Sky twice. 

Surely a few have dismissed this article already, but I’m hoping you’ll bare with it, at least until you’ve heard my side of the story.  The second thing I need to admit is that, yes, I did actually enjoy the film. That said, there are very few fundamentally bad films that I actually like, which inspired me to write about this one.  The first time I saw it, I was about 13 years-old and my initial impression was repulsion. It was a film that really didn’t know what it wanted to be; Science-Fiction, Drama, Romance, Thriller, it had all these elements, but neither was better than the other, they were all merely average. Then there was the use of music. Cameron Crowe is well known for bombarding his films with culturally relevant music, and it worked for Almost Famous. Here however, it felt like a smug addition, an outlet for him to tell everyone just how relevant he is. It just didn’t gel though, and it struggles to develop any mood or tone from that point on.

Admittedly I still have those issues with the movie the second time around and it still has a plethora of other problems. Somehow though, out of the blue, came an ending that really moved me.

David Aames (Tom Cruise) has been taking his life for granted. Everything seemed to go right for him, his incredible wealth, the publishing company he just inherited from his deceased father, his good looks and his “friends with benefits” attitude to relationships. It all comes crashing down, literally, when close friend Julie Gianna (Cameron Diaz) struggles to form the relationship she wants with David and in a panic, drives them both over the side of a bridge, killing Julie and deforming David beyond recognition. What develops is a disturbing tale that delves deep into the human condition.

Few will doubt the performances in the film. Cruise is at the height of his power, coming straight off his amazing work in Eyes Wide Shut he doesn’t miss a beat here as the broken and mentally unstable David Aames. Cameron Diaz also delivers after her daring portrayal in Being John Malkovic. Penelope Cruz (who was in the original version playing Diaz’s part) is excellent as Sophia and adds a lot of emotional weight to the proceedings. Rounding out the other performances are Kurt Russell, Jason Lee and Tilda Swinton who are all amiable. Yet despite all this it’s Cruise who is at the centre of the film, and although the material is heavy, he triumphs with a great sense of gravitas.

Does this picture look familiar? It's a clue.

It’s a bizarre film, and many will be either disappointed or confused by the events that take place. Having seen it recently though, it still feels incredibly relevant. The twist ending does clear quite a few things up, probably too much for those that like to discuss the films afterwards, but it also leaves a lasting impression. The most important questions that need to be answered are left alone, and it’s the right call. It’s a poignant climax, complex but not without the right emotions. It’s a pity though, that the first two acts are so lopsided, as it could have made for a more potent story, and a potential classic, or maybe I should have just seen the original (I swear I will).

Love it or hate it, Vanilla Sky is a film that can be discussed, and that’s exactly what Cameron Crowe was going for here. It’s been dismissed at first glance as an overtly pretentious sci-fi romance, but it’s quite a bit more. With the right focus and intent this could have been a great film, instead, it’s an ambitious mess.