Director: Cameron Crowe
Cast: Tom Cruise, Penelope De Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell, Timothy Spall, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Tilda Swinton, Michael Shannon
Plot: David Aames has everything, but he squanders it away with selfishness, accumulating in a horrific car accident that leaves him disfigured.
I decided to start going back and revisiting Tom Cruise movies, mainly because he is one of the most respected actors. He has been in countless movies, most of them classics, yet he splits people right down the middle whether he is good or not. I have only ever really seen him in action and I thought to make a better decision on his talent, I should go back to early Cruise and see him tackle a hard-hitting drama. Vanilla Sky seemed as good a place to start as any.
David Aames is a refreshingly unique character. On paper, he isn’t that different from a lot of other popular characters. He is a typical Barney from ‘How I Met Your Mother’; he has an easy, but high-paying job he inherited rather than worked for, he has endless amount of women to choose from and everyone but a board room full of cynics loves him. The character is very… Tom Cruise. However, it is the direction that Crowe has over the stereotype that interested me. Aames is never portrayed in a good light. He is fun to behind around, as he swans through crowds of beautiful women, hanging around Steven Spielberg in a nice, little cameo. However, we never forget that Aames is a very unlikeable character. He has a loyal puppy of a best mate, who always stands by him, even if it means overlooking the fact that he poaches every crush he gets in the movie. He hungrily watches a woman describe to him how he is breaking his ‘on-and-off’ girlfriend’s heart, without taking in a word she is saying. We never forget that Aames isn’t a character we should like too much. While it is a nice little message and the scenes here are fun enough, it didn’t strike me as too enjoyable. Vanilla Sky was just coasting along in blissful amusement. Then the car crash happens.
Tom Cruise’s Aames emerges disfigured, his face losing any form of attractiveness. The slow reveal to the new face is terrific as Crowe dances around the shot. We see Cruise hiding behind a mask, we see him from behind, shuffling along like a zombie and the first reveal is a quick flash, less than a second long, so we don’t truly see what we are looking at. When we finally see the face, it truly is horrific. Tom Cruise goes from coasting along on his natural charm, into the best performance I have seen from him. Cruise totally sells the image of a man breaking down. Crowe gives him some delicious dialogue to sink his teeth into, but it is the energy and spirit of Aames that really makes it a worthwhile watch. The scene in the nightclub allows Tom Cruise to totally go for broke and even with the heavy topic of his life collapsing around him, it is great watching him do his thing. The scenes behind the mask also ask him to act handicapped; he can no longer use that easy-going smile to make the audience fall in love with him. Cruise steps up to the plate and I left this movie a definite fan.
Slowly the movie evolves into something entirely different. I went into Vanilla Sky clueless; I just knew it was up there with one of Tom Cruise’s most talked about movies. I assumed it was a movie that did what it said on the tin; Tom Cruise plays a jack-ass that get what’s coming to him, slowly but surely. But Vanilla Sky is much more than that. It becomes a strange, dream-like film and after a while, you lose touch with what you thought is going on. Whenever you think you have figured out where the film is going, it brings up your guess and uses it as a red herring. The film does get a little difficult to watch here; I have never been that big a fan of movies that try to purposefully make you lose your place in the story, but the twist and reveal at the end of it all makes Vanilla Sky well worth the struggle to the finish line. In fact, I am looking forward to a second viewing, so I can see where all of the pieces come together.
I was also surprised at the amount of good actors here. Cameron Diaz plays the girl Aames ditches over at the start. She has fun with the character and you cannot help but feel sorry for her, even when she punishes Aames for his ignorance to her. Kurt Russell shows up as the psychiatrist and while the whole therapist part is one that looks good when you convince a veteran actor to do it, we have seen the part before. Russell makes it work well enough though and the scenes don’t slow the movie down at all. Other great actors like Swinton, Spall, and even a bit role for Michael Shannon, pop up and while they don’t feature too heavily, they make a mark on the proceedings. I have to commend Crowe’s script most of all. There is some fantastic dialogue in this movie. Not one line falls flat and some of them should be celebrated as quotes. I left this movie impressed and wondering why no one raves about Vanilla Sky more often. It is a hidden gem when it comes to movie classics.
Final Verdict: Cameron Crowe takes you on a journey, playing around with your preconceptions of the story. His script also allows Tom Cruise to wow the audience with a great performance.