How strange the human mind is; this center of activity wherein perceptions of reality are formed and stored, and in which one's view of the world hinges on the finely tuned functioning of the brain, this most delicate and intricate processor of all things sensory. And how much do we really know of it's inner-workings, of it's depth or capacity? What is it in the mind that allows us to discern between reality and a dream? Or can we? Perhaps our sense of reality is no more than an impression of what we actually see, like looking at a painting by Monet, in which the vanilla sky of his vision becomes our reality. It's a concept visited by filmmaker Cameron Crowe in his highly imaginative and consciousness-altering film, `Vanilla Sky,' starring Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz. At the age of thirty-three, David Aames (Cruise) inherits a publishing empire left to him by his father. His fifty-one percent controlling interest, however, has made him something of a
marked man, as there are seven members of his board of directors, and each deems himself more worthy than the young Mr. Aames of the lion's share of the company. And fueling the fires of discontent is their perception that David lacks the focus the job requires.
Admittedly, David likes to play; still, he's in control of the business and does what he sees fit, whether the board (he refers to them as the `Seven Dwarfs') likes it or not, and no one has ever had the courage to challenge him directly. But during a lavish birthday party in his honor, one of the corporate lawyers, Thomas Tipp (Timothy Spall) warns David that the seven are up to something behind his back. At the time, however, it's the last thing on David's mind; he's been having a casual affair with a friend, Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), but even that moves to the back burner when he meets a woman at his party that he can't get out of his mind. Her name is Sofia (Penelope Cruz), and after knowing her for only one night, she becomes a pivotal part of his life-- which is about to be turned upside down, as on the morning after his party he makes a decision that will change his life forever. And he is about to learn that sometimes, there is simply no going back.
Director Cameron Crowe has crafted and delivered much more than just another film with this one; far more than a movie, `Vanilla Sky' is a vision realized. Beginning with the first images that appear on screen, he presents a visually stunning experience that is both viscerally and cerebrally affecting. It's a mind-twisting mystery that will swallow you up and sweep you away; emotionally, it's a rush-- and it may leave you exhausted, because it requires some effort to stay with it. But it's worth it. Think `Memento' with a driving rock n' roll soundtrack and a vibrant assault of colors proffered by the stroke of an impressionist's brush. There's darkness and light, and sounds that pound and drive until you can feel the blood rushing through your veins and throbbing in your brain. And all played out on a landscape of virtual reality swirling beneath that ever expanding vanilla sky. Simply put, this one's a real trip; it's exciting-- and it's a mind bender.
As to the performances here, those who can't get past the mind-set of Tom Cruise as Maverick in `Top Gun,' or his Ethan Hunt in `Mission Impossible,' or those who perceive him only as a `movie star' rather than an actor, are going to have to think again in light of his work here. Because as David Aames, Cruise gives the best performance of his career, one that should check any doubts as to his ability as an actor at the door. He's made some interesting career choices the past few years, with films like `Magnolia' and `Eyes Wide Shut' merely warm-ups for the very real and complex character he creates here. And give him credit, too, for taking on a role that dispels any sense of vanity; this is Cruise as you've never seen him before. `Jerry Maguire' earned him an Oscar nomination, and this one should, also-- as well as the admiration and acclaim of his peers. Cruise is not just good in this movie, he is remarkable.
Penelope Cruz turns in an outstanding, if not exceptional performance, as well, as Sofia, the woman of David's dreams. There's an alluring innocence she brings to this role that works well for her character and makes her forthcoming and accessible, yet she lacks any hint of mystery that may have added that special `something extra' to the part. But Crowe knows how to get the best out of his actors, and he certainly did with Cruz.
He also knew what he was doing with Cameron Diaz, who is absolutely vibrant in the role of Julie. She's never looked better, and fairly sizzles on screen. But make no mistake, this is no `window-dressing' part, and Diaz delivers a complete package with this character. The quality of her performance can be measured, in fact, in the impact she makes with rather limited screen time. And it's the persona she integrates so fully with her innate beauty that makes Julie so unforgettable. Overall, a terrific job by Diaz.
The supporting cast includes Kurt Russell (Dr. McCabe), Jason Lee (Brian), Johnny Galecki (Peter), Armand Schultz (Dr. Pomerantz), Noah Taylor (Ed), Mel Thompson (`L.E.' Man), Jean Carol (Woman in New York) and John Fedevich (Silent Ed). About half-way through, this one may have you questioning your own sense of reality; but rest assured, by the end of `Vanilla Sky' all will be revealed. It's a reality-bender, to be sure, and a wild one; but this is exciting entertainment that offers a satisfying-- and unique-- experience, one you have to see to believe. It's the essential, and absolute, magic of the movies. 10/10.