A remake of a Spanish film that I have still, sadly, not yet seen (Abre Los Ojos by Alejandro Amenabar), Vanilla Sky couldn't really be any further removed from the last movie that paired director Cameron Crowe up with star Tom Cruise - Jerry Maguire. Then again, there are more similarities between the two when looked at in a bit more detail. For now, to keep things simple, I'll be keeping everything quite shallow. That's my level, and I'm comfortable there.
Tom Cruise plays David Aames, a very rich and successful young man who gets himself in a fair bit of trouble when he fools around with the gorgeous and successful Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) before falling instantly and absolutely in love with the spirited Sophia (Penelope Cruz, reprising her role from original version). David goes from a dizzying high to an unbelievable low as his face is disfigured and his spirit crushed. He starts to push people away with his behaviour, including his best friend, Brian Shelby (Jason Lee), and ends up forced to speak to a psychiatrist (Kurt Russell) in an attempt to make sense of events that he doesn't understand. Reality and fiction intertwine, making David fear for his sanity.
Crowe is credited with writing the screenplay as well as directing this movie. As already mentioned, I've not seen the original, but I'd imagine that his screenplay work is more in line with an adaptation than any wholly original work. Regardless, he does a good job. As well as the dialogue, there are so many fantastic little touches in every scene, both front and centre and just noticeable in the background. The detritus of these characters' lives is something that rewards repeat viewings, and the film may veer too unevenly between the highs and lows - especially after such a good opening 20 minutes - but it ultimately makes it all worthwhile for the audience by the time the credits roll.
The cast are a bit of a mixed bag. Cruise does okay in his role, and perhaps enjoyed performing half the movie with his face either covered up or disfigured, while Jason Lee and Penelope Cruz are both very good at portraying . . . . . . . very good people. Cameron Diaz doesn't do quite so well, but then she never really does (bless her). Kurt Russell is enjoyable in his role, and other roles are filled by people such as Timothy Spall, Tilda Swinton, Noah Taylor, Michael Shannon and Johnny Galecki.
It may be a bit self-indulgent in places (the excess of pop culture references, the Spielberg blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo, the sense of smugness during the final third), but it also has so many great moments and dark, albeit glossed over, ideas in the mix that I still like it a lot. And, typically from Cameron Crowe, there's a cracking soundtrack accompanying the visuals.