Vanilla Sky – Ohio Beacon Journal

Vanilla Sky Richly Flavored

Complex tale of superficial publishing magnate shocks by shifting time, identities quite unlike previous movies by director Cameron Crowe

NEW YORK: It’s a difficult scene to picture.

Tom Cruise, still boyishly handsome after 20 years in feature films, hops into his Ferrari and speeds through a people-less Manhattan. Fleeing his car, he runs through Times Square as the ESPNZone sign crawls by, the JVC sign blinks and the giant TV stares at him.

But he is alone. Completely and utterly alone.

Loneliness is one of the many themes that occupy the two-plus hours of Cameron Crowe’s new movie Vanilla Sky. And although it’s difficult to believe Cruise could ever find himself alone, his character in Sky, David Aames, does.

Cruise portrays an uber-rich, superficial publishing magnate who peppers his life with meaningless sexual encounters and extreme sporting adventures. He samples liberally from the banquet of life with no hesitation and no regard for what the consequences of his actions may be. He questions whether there is true love.

When a friend advises him that he has to “taste the bitter before the sweet,” you realize that Aames will be taking the trip of a lifetime. He meets the woman of his dreams — even though she arrives at his birthday party with that friend — and experiences a glimpse of true love. Fate, however, renders that moment fleeting after his face is horribly disfigured in an accident.

If Vanilla Sky sounds like a film not normally associated with Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous), you’re right. But at the same time, it’s uniquely Crowe, because it’s a veritable pop culture jigsaw puzzle, each reference fitting precisely into the plot. And Cruise, one of acting’s true international superstars, is the most important piece.

“If you have Tom in the part, you know the movie’s going to have a center,” Crowe said during an interview last week. “Then there were a couple of offshoot things. We were determined to have the makeup be really realistic, and not do a makeup movie where the actor is playing the actor’s part of the disfigured man.

“But this was also the pop culture benefit of Tom playing the part, because there’s so much pop culture in the movie. If we do our job right here, we could really have fun conjecturing.”

Still another piece of that puzzle was Penelope Cruz, Cruise’s latest flame, reprising the role that she’d created in Alejandro Amenabar’s original Spanish version, Open Your Eyes.

Crowe wanted the Spanish actress, who has starred in films such as Woman on Top and Blow, to serve as the link between the two.

“I really like Penelope. I started seeing some of her Spanish movies and she’s done more movies than Tom,” Crowe said. “She’s done a lot, yet she’s so fresh. We spent months and months casting on Almost Famous, and on this one I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on casting, and if we could work with Penelope, I thought we should. She had a link to the movie that I enjoy. I thought that was pop itself.”

She stars as Sofia, the woman who could provide Aames the pure form of love he knows is lacking in his privileged life.

The part was one that she actively sought, Cruz said. A slight, almost waifish woman with entrancing brown eyes, she had few problems about remaking a film that’s already highly regarded on both sides of the sea.

“I think no one questions that it was a good film and Alejandro has great talent,” she said. “Cameron and Tom are big fans of Alejandro’s work, and that’s what made Tom buy the movie and that’s what made Cameron interested.”

And are any comparisons between the two legitimate?

“I don’t try to force it. It is the way it is and I think there’s a dialogue between these two movies and having so many things in common,” she said.

“I think the best way to put it is when Cameron said it’s about taking a song you really love and admire and making your own version of it. And that’s what he has done. The other one is a more classical version and this is more focused on rock ‘n’ roll and pop culture.”

As much as the references to popular film, TV and music put a definite Cameron Crowe signature on Vanilla Sky, his fans should know that this is not a typical film you’d get from this director.

This is the guy who tapped into the gray area between the late teens and early 20s when he wrote and directed the widely hailed Say Anything. In Jerry Maguire, he took what could have been the simple story of a sports agent and his lone client and created a modern-day, multilayered classic that worked as a sports film, journey of self-discovery and love story.

And last year he took his personal experiences as a teen rock journalist for Rolling Stone magazine and turned it into the tender coming-of-age story Almost Famous. All of these were assembled in a conventional narrative style.

Vanilla Sky shocks in that it shifts moments in time and identities, taking the viewer on a wild ride that some film fans will consider annoying, while others will enjoy the trip. And that trippy quality is new to Crowe.

He’s acutely aware of the dangers associated with veering outside of what is considered the norm.

“No movies that seem to be made for the sake of being different seem too self-aware to begin with,” he said as he brushed his chestnut locks from his eyes. “This was just a good story. I love the atypical structure of Pulp Fiction. If I had been able to crack the structure of Singles (his 1992 film), that would’ve been a much better movie.

“So this is a movie where I loved the structure, but I wanted to collaborate on the characters with Alejandro even though I hadn’t met him yet. The structure was a plus; it wasn’t a motivational thing.

“It’s hard to work in different genres. Billy Wilder is legendary and singular because he was able to work in different genres. It’s a wonderful plus if you can pull it off.”

Courtesy of Ohio Beacon Journal – George M. Thomas – December 9, 2001