Another Cruise Catastrophe,
This review is from: Vanilla Sky (Widescreen) (Bilingual) (DVD)This film stars Tom Cruise.
Sadly, that statement condemns the watcher to over two hours of flat characterisation, empty purpose and hollow feelings. Tom Cruise plays himself admirably. He dare attempt no other role. The casting deprives a powerful story of its fundamental strength. The perceptive viewer will quickly realise that this plot is rich with promise, a covenant emptied of its worth by the inadequacy of its lead actor. The story, opening with the hackneyed depiction of sex, money and power, soon enters a new realm of fantasy. The issue of "what is real?", reduced to a trance state from overuse, is here granted a fine resurrection. The surprise is its mechanism.
The story of a "poor little rich kid" seems, initially, too weary to endure again. Inheriting a publishing house, a New York apartment and a resentment toward his departed father, David Ames has no aims. His sole relationship with the company is an ongoing battle with the Board of Directors for control. The control isn't rooted in how the business is run - it seems to run itself. It's a personality clash - with seven people collectively having less personality than Cruise. How is that possible? David has a stable of ready women, as any rich pretty boy should. Notable among them is Julie - Cameron Diaz, whose sensuality is somehow actually enhanced in this film. How is that possible? David has another stable - his friends. This one contains but one resident - a stereotype struggling writer doing a fictional autobiography. Which is possible to the point of saturation.
This scenario promises the ennui of a George Sanders film until David encounters Sofia. Played by Penelope Cruz, Sofia vacillates between repelling David's advances and enticing him on. The first encounter lasts the entire night. David emerges from Sofia's apartment to be confronted by Julie. The result of this encounter initiates the film's departure from stereotype. Julie, challenging David's flighty notions of committment, leads them to an act of mutual destruction. Or does it? Something goes awry and David is being interviewed by a psychiatrist. This interaction becomes the basis of the story as David struggles to detail the events of his life leading to horrible disfigurement, emotional conflicts over his women, his friend and his inheritance. David may have murdered somebody, but the victim isn't identified and the circumstances defy definition. The resolution shows why this film could have been a masterpiece. Crowe's struggles to retain the power of the original story are Herculean, but simply undercut by Cruise's insistence on playing the lead. I would have preferred George Sanders.
There is evidence of Crowe's abilities in the other roles. Cameron Diaz brings a fresh intensity to her depiction of the rejected suitor. She's not just a gold-seeker - David is a real person to her [obviously surpassing our perception]. Penelope Cruz possesses all the grace and dignity you would expect of a ballerina. She handles every scene with finesse. The real standout here is Kurt Russell as the psychologist. In their exchanges, Russell is drawn in by both David's personality and the bizarre condition he suffers - the wearing of a latex face mask to conceal his scars. It's tempting to say Cruise is at his best behind a mask, but we'll forebear. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]