‘Vanilla Sky’ Review: The Sweet Without The Sour

Posted in The Screening Room by - November 18, 2015

It isn’t often that I connect with a film on a level that force me to me introspective on my life experiences. Frankly, that never happens. It takes a particularly powerful film to cause me to sit up and take notice; Vanilla Sky is one such film. I didn’t know what to expect going into it other than it was notoriously divisive, it featured Tom Cruise, and that it was a remake of the Alejandro Amenabar film, Abre Los Ojos. With that in mind, not only was I blown away by the film, but I also connected with it on a level that I haven’t connected with a film in quite a while.

The movie follows David Aames, played by Tom Cruise, a trust fund baby who has it all. He has a mentally unstable fuckbuddy Julie (Cameron Diaz) and a best friend Brian (Jason Lee) who yearns for his privileged lifestyle. When he meets Sofia (Penelope Cruz), Aames falls in love with her and feels like his life is beginning to turn. However, through some unfortunate events of his own doing, Aames’ life turned upside and he becomes horribly disfigured. This is where the film takes a turn from straight drama to sci-fi drama, which is new for Cameron Crowe. The less that is known about the film from the accident onward the better as the film goes some interesting, unique places. It strays far from the typical dramatic love story and does something truly unique with the science fiction elements.

Not being the biggest fan of Tom Cruise, I didn’t know what to expect going into the film, but he absolutely knocks it out of the park as the spoiled Aames. For most of the early part of the film, he is as unlikable as he is arrogant. However, after the accident, Cruise shines as a deeply flawed character who is trying to discern what is real and what is a hallucination. A large handful of dramatic films struggle to create true emotion with either their script or actor performances but Cruise succeeds in spades. Cruise’s talent as an actor is his ability to garner sympathy from the viewer, and he does so as Aames. It’s surprising that the film has been called a “vanity piece” for Cruise as he turns in a career-defining performance as Aames.

The supporting cast in the film is equally as fantastic, especially Jason Lee and Penelope Cruz. Lee is known more for his comedic work be it with frequent collaborator Kevin Smith or on hit TV shows like My Name is Earl. However, in Vanilla Sky, he not only shows off some of his signature comedic skills but also his more serious acting talents. His turn as Brian is the essentially the audience in the film, on the outside of Cruise’s life looking in but never truly a part of it. He is one of the best parts of the film as he helps to ground Cruise’s Aames in reality. Cruz also helps with that grounding as Sofia, the love interest of Aames. Reprising her role from the original film, she is the equal to Cruise. As well, her on screen chemistry with Cruise is believable which is helped by the fact that they were kindling a romance off screen. Her performance is a stand out in a film full of memorable performances.

Special note should be given to Kurt Russell and Cameron Diaz as well in the film as their performances are great as well. They are both in only a handful of scenes but these scenes are some of the most memorable in the film, particularly the scene between Diaz and Cruise in her car. It’s difficult to have a lasting effect on a film when given so few scenes but both accomplish that and more in their respective roles.

Vanilla Sky has replaced Almost Famous as my favorite Cameron Crowe film. Not only did the message of the film resonate with me but it also made me appreciate the acting talent of Tom Cruise. I understand why the film is so divisive however, primarily in part to the nonlinear and, at times, confusing story progression. It is a film that necessitates multiple viewings to begin to fully understand the multiple layers. Crowe himself has said there are multiple “approved” interpretations of the film, which adds to need for multiple viewings. It’s a deep film that tells a unique, interesting story about loneliness, consequences, and love. 

Final Say: Watch It

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He’s a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You’ll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.

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