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Volume 4, Issue 2                                    University of Houston

'Vanilla Sky' may baffle critics, but Crowe handles complex plot well

Vanilla Sky

**** 1/2 (out of five stars)
Rated R 
Starring: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz

Paramount Pictures

By Geronimo Rodriguez
Breaking News Staff

Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe's latest film, is an excellent story filled with sexual, violent and mind-numbing situations addressing the ultimate "what ifs?" regarding relationships.

Some critics feel the writer/director of 2000's Almost Famous took on more than he could handle with this English version of Alejandro Amenabar's 1997 Spanish film, Abre los Ojos. While the film forces the audience to answer a few questions without any help, Vanilla Sky is not as difficult or confusing as some make it out to be. In time, Crowe explains what he wants to explain and leaves a few questions dangling, allowing audiences to decide what actually happened.

David Aames (Tom Cruise) is a magazine publisher who lives his life to the fullest. David has no worries about money, accommodates his good looks by surrounding himself with beautiful women and even has a "sex buddy." It may sound like a man's ideal life, but not even David can escape a woman's wrath.

Neal Preston/Paramount Pictures

Real-life lovers Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz star in Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, a film that runs the gamut from romance to psychological thriller.

David's "sex buddy," Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), doesn't just want sex anymore and is determined to have David all to herself. Just in time, Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz), enters the picture and David's life turns into a series of dreams that give him pleasure and fear.

The consequences David faces are intriguing and horrifying. Some will consider David's downfall to be vanity, others will blame it on women and a few more will side with something in between.

Crowe is not David Fincher when comes to being obscure. Nor is he is Stanley Kubrick when it comes to getting the best out of one character in a single scene. But he does know how to handle relationships -- the most appealing aspect of the film.

Whether Cruise and Cruz's characters are going through that "at first sight" kind of love, or if Cruise and Diaz's characters are going through a "fatal attraction," Crowe never misses on expressing their feelings.

The line "That smile is gonna be the end of me," as seen in the trailers, is the closest it gets to defining a moment when a man, even Cruise's egocentric character, decides to turn his life around for a woman.

Even the exchanges between Diaz's demented Julia and Cruise's regretful, yet selfish, David will be hard to forget. The conversations are perfect while the actions are more than enough to express that David can't get away from the relationship without facing severe consequences.

The rest of the story, the idea of a man twisting his mind to believe and remember the things he wants, has to be credited to goes to Amenabar. This extremely talented storyteller (The Others) originated the story and arguably translated it onto the screen better than Crowe.

But don't believe critics who write off Crowe's attempt as being too confusing. Consider if Crowe already made his mark with good films like Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, then taking on Amenabar's Abre los Ojos should be commended.

With Vanilla Sky, Crowe adds more dimensions to his craft. The opening scene alone, where Cruise is seen standing by himself in New York's Times Square, demands the audience's attention. It lets people know this isn't going to be another Jerry Maguire. Audiences are soon reminded of Fincher's kind of mood found in The Game where nothing is believable.

Throughout Vanilla Sky, David is seen struggling with himself in situations reminiscent of Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder, in settings as dry as any Kubrick scene.

In short, Crowe successfully employs a vast array of filmmaking to get through a plot that cannot be explained in one sitting.

Cruise turns in a memorable performance as a man who puts on a thousand faces by the story's end. He gives his all to epitomize a man's sad struggle with himself to face reality. The appealing leading man has come a long way from films like Risky Business, assuring audiences that he will always give a solid performance in any role.

Diaz does well as the stalker in the relationship. She doesn't go over the top and is almost as scary as Glenn Close's performance in Fatal Attraction. Almost.

Cruz can now declare her crossover into English films official. All The Pretty Horses wasn't taken too seriously for a number of reasons and no one saw Woman on Top. The pretty actress' performance in Vanilla Sky will have critics paying closer attention in future films.

That's about as much as one can say about this film without giving away too much. Vanilla Sky is an overwhelming film that does its best to keep things secret, allowing Crowe to unfold it brilliantly.

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