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VANILLA SKY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Cameron Diaz
Director: Cameron Crowe
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 135 Minutes
Release Date: May 21, 2002

“Sometimes, the mind behaves as if it were in a dream. Faces change, people become other people. The subconscious is a powerful thing.”

Film ****

Reviewing a film like Vanilla Sky is such a difficult task, even if it’s such an astonishingly brilliant piece of moviemaking. For a movie aimed at a mostly mainstream audience, this is definitely a rare kind of film. It challenges the audience to a story that goes in numerous directions and may leave some viewers totally lost. It blends many different elements in the process, including romance, humor, mystery, and the last two thirds of the film feels like a proper subplot from The Matrix. And even though describing this film is an immense task, this is simply an unforgettable film, and proves once again that the collaboration of Tom Cruise and director Cameron Crowe makes for a surefire newfound classic, such as their last collaboration, Jerry Maguire, proved to be. Crowe has to be one of the busiest directors of recent memory, as he reportedly he went straight into production on this project following his Oscar-winning Almost Famous. This an American remake of the Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), which I haven’t been able to experience yet, but I can certainly say that the impact of this film makes me want to see it this very second.

Let me begin  praising this film by its eye-popping opening sequence, which I truly feel is Cameron Crowe’s shining moment as a director. It has Cruise’s character venturing into a completely vacant Times Square, and begins running down the street in a complete shock. It’s a masterful sequence that perfectly sets the tone for this dreamlike film.

Cruise, in one of his most daring film choices to date, plays David Aames, who as the film begins, is very much on top of the world. Running a magazine publishing empire left to him by his father, David has absolutely everything life has to offer. Money, cars, plentiful friends, plus the added bonus of frequent sex with a gorgeous woman named Juliana, played by Cameron Diaz (I rest my case). But something is truly missing from David’s satisfactory lifestyle, which is the feeling of true love. While throwing a routine party gathering, David meets the eye-catching Sofia (Penelope Cruz), who immediately takes his breath away. Following a beautiful night of getting to know one another, David truly feels that he’s finally found his true love companion.

At the point when David starts to truly feel alive for the first time in his life, he encounters Juliana, who appears to be following him with a sudden case of jealously. She offers David a ride in her car, upon which she unleashes the striking truth about her feelings for him, which causes her to become a little deranged behind the wheel, thus resulting in a horrific accident.

I cannot bring myself to reveal the rest of the film for two reasons; it would reveal absolutely too much and I’m not sure that I would be able to translate most of the latter events to paper, except to say that the line between dream and reality will be completely undetectable. They are scenes that you as a viewer should simply watch and be astounded by. All that I can say is that David’s life takes a staggeringly strange turn for the unexpected in the aftermath of the car accident. It all builds up to a remarkable revelation at the end that is nothing short of striking.

This is a pure triumph for all involved. Cruise is at his razor sharp best as a man trapped and haunted by both his reality and his dreams. Penelope Cruz is the pure epitome of absolute magic and beauty, which she displays here very memorably. The film also gets strong supporting work from Kurt Russell, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, and Ms. Diaz, who really gave me the chills with her performance here, even as I still consider her the most beautiful thing on the face of the earth. But most of all, this is a triumph for Cameron Crowe in by far his most challenging piece yet. With Vanilla Sky, Crowe has evolved even further as a monumental filmmaker.

Vanilla Sky is film for both the heart and the senses to be touched and assaulted by. It’s a one-of-a-kind motion picture that will definitely need a second viewing for complete understanding from most viewers. Very seldom has a film haunted me after each single viewing since perhaps Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. This is one of last year’s most remarkable films, as well as one of the most provocative and challenging viewing experiences I’ve had in sometime.

Video ***1/2

Had it not been for some occasional grain that popped up here and there during the opening portion of the presentation, this would’ve received a full four star rating. Aside from that slight flaw, Paramount has made a glorious looking disc with this anamorphic presentation. Image is seen in top digital quality, with pure clearness and crispness, and the colors are perfectly vibrant. The disc’s standout moment is in the film’s last 45 minutes, which include breathtaking backgrounds that I knew would turn up nicely on this format. The video job on this disc is somewhat, well…dreamlike.

Audio ****

For a movie that involves a dreamlike feeling, the presence of distinct audio would sort of be expected, and Paramount has delivered in this department with an astonishing 5.1 audio mix. Like many of Cameron Crowe’s films, the strong points in the sound come from the use of music. This film includes songs by the likes of Radiohead, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, and The Chemical Brothers, in addition to the nice subtle score by Crowe’s wife, Nancy Wilson, and the music use is once again the highlight in this film. Specific settings, such as crowded areas like nightclubs are picked up extremely well too, and the sound simply never lets down from the opening scenes, allowing dialogue to be heard clearly at the same time. A magnificent job from Paramount.

Features ****

Strange how Paramount didn’t think to issue this release as a Special Collector’s Edition, because this one’s got the proper level of extras to be considered such. Included is a wonderful commentary by Cameron Crowe and Nancy Wilson, which like every Crowe commentary, is very informative and much exciting to listen to. The commentary also includes a brief conversation with Mr. Cruise. Also featured are two documentaries; “Prelude to a Dream” and “Hitting it Hard”, both of which are superbly done. There’s also a interview segment with Paul McCartney, a music video for “Afrika Shox” by Leftfield/Afrika Bambaataa, photo gallery with an introduction by photographer Neal Preston, and two theatrical trailers.

Summary:

Vanilla Sky is a cinematic experience that is nothing short of gratifying and haunting. Those who appreciate challenging films of the mind are in for a knockout treat, and it certainly does help to watch it more than once.