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Vanilla Sky

Year: 2001
Director: Cameron Crowe
Producer: Tom Cruise/Paula Wagner/Cameron Crowe
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Cast: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Jason Lee, Kurt Russell, Noah Taylor
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Having sat through what seemed an extraordinarily long movie, you feel like you've lived through several stories and experienced something completely new. Whether you've experienced something good is a very fluid question in this case. Aspects of the movie make it seem not so good, others come from so far out of left field you know you've never seen anything like them, which somehow makes it a good movie by default. It's also the most 'uncategorisable' film in recent memory, belonging to no genre and all of them.

But you also can't put your finger on what the point was - there seemed too many of them and they seemed too fluid, letting you pick the one you want. Also, the theatrical trailer gave away nothing whatsoever to do with the deeper plot, so as well as tanking at the box office, it looked just like another Tom Cruise rules the world story - Top Gun or Cocktail with better acting.

For the first hour, it chronicles the life of playboy millionaire publisher David Aames (Cruise), who has riches, looks, and casual sex with beautiful actress Julie Gianni (Diaz). Watching him fall for the girl of his dreams (Cruz), Julie seethes with jealousy, tricks him into her car, and drives off a bridge, killing herself and causing such damage to his face that he's confined to wearing a mask.

From there, the confusion goes into overdrive, both for the hero and audience. Interspersed with flashbacks of Aames institutionalised for an unexplained murder as a psychoanalyst (Russell) tries to unravel his secrets, things turns strange in a way that makes you think the world is suddenly 'wrong' (which is where the gimmick of the film being about 'everything', obviously comes from).

Tipped off by the smallest of plot devices (a story about cryogenic freezing), the story then goes into hyper science fiction. We learn that everything forward of a pivotal point in the film is a cryogenic dream that the Aames of 150 years hence is having as his 'implanted' life goes haywire due to a technical glitch. A brief explanatory dialogue from the tech support guy (Taylor, who'd been popping up in the corner every now and then) goes 90% of the way to satisfactorily wrapping everything up.

Cruise gives the best performance a limited part offers his considerable talent. Cruz is plain irritating as always. Jason Lee as Aames' author friend has much of his trademark edge taken from him to play a big second fiddle to Cruise, not the strong balancing part he usually plays as a Kevin Smith fixture. But the real star is writer/director Crowe, who's taken on an enormous idea and done extraordinary things with it - not necessarily good, but extraordinary all the same.

Some incredible set pieces like the never-ending elevator ride and the sight of Times Square deserted in morning rush hour give the film some worthy visuals.

And yes, I know since seeing the film what a ripoff it is of Open Your Eyes, but to be fair I saw this first.

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