A successful publisher finds his life taking a turn for the surreal after a car accident with a jaded lover.
Year 3, Film #18
THE GOOD: If there’s one thing that Vanilla Sky doesn’t lack, it’s ambition. This film is very different from the other two Cameron Crowe films I’ve seen (We Bought a Zoo and Jerry Maguire and in a few very distinct and good ways, the biggest of which being the mystery that shrouds this film.
Mystery is a word I think of as positive, as opposed to confusion which I think of as negative, both of which embody Vanilla Sky. For the mystery part, Crowe sets us up right off the bat. The opening scene to the film shows David Aames (Tom Cruise) getting ready for the day and then driving along a deserted New York City in the heart of Times Square. Something is obviously not right and you can sense that even before David does. This is mystery: forcing us to ask questions and think about what we are seeing. It preps our minds and thinking for something unexpected and something that will require us to figure it out.
The big mystery is figuring out what is going on; what is real. We follow David, a big-shot executive who inherited his father’s company after his passing, who has all you could dream of. He’s successful, has money, friends, love; the whole nine-yards. But then some things start to slip away and he starts having weird dreams that encroach on his real life and we can no longer easily distinguish reality from dream. As a whole, this is set up well and is executed throughout with the help of some clever editing (although it can add to the confusion, more in a bit) and cinematography.
THE BAD: But much of the film, including the mystery elements, are shrouded in confusion. If mystery is forcing us to ask questions, confusion is failing to answer them, or rather provide hints at what the answers are. It’s not disappointing that we don’t get any answers (the ending does provide some answers, but even those are still cryptic), it’s that the answers we do get seem to be out of left field and make little sense. The film doesn’t need to set up a Hansel and Gretel trail of breadcrumbs to show us the way, but the ending needs to, at a bare minimum, make some sense in retrospect.
Mysteries work best when you can’t predict what will happen next, but when you do see what happens, you kick yourself that you couldn’t see it being set up all along. Vanilla Sky doesn’t have that. When you see the ending, you just sit there with a blank stare on your face because nothing you saw beforehand really relates to the big reveal. A few lightbulbs go off — the biggest one being about a certain timing and switch that occurs — but it doesn’t feel like some big craftsmanship where things were in motion from frame one. Instead, it feels like some patchwork solution thrown together at the end to make everything that happened earlier make some modicum of sense.
THE TAKEAWAY: Vanilla Sky starts off strong and builds up anticipation for what seems to be a very intriguing mystery that will have you puzzling over what is real and what is a dream. However, very quickly we discover that the puzzling we’re doing just causes annoyance and frustration that no clues, hints, or answers are given until the absolute end. By that point, the mystery becomes confusion and we’re left wondering what on Earth we just watching. It does provide some entertainment, but you have to plow your way through a lot of nonsense to get there.
THE RATING: 3 out of 5