In the same year as Steven Spielberg's love-it-or-hate-it A.I., Cameron Crowe also polarized audiences with this thought-provoking, frustrating, and above-all ambitious mosaic on the states of being and perception. Vanilla Sky is one of those cinematic pretzels that ties a critic into knots, because the torrent of deconstructive theorizing it encourages would reveal key surprises. What can be divulged is that Crowe departs, for the first time in his career, from the realistic, sentimental storytelling that has interested him, switching over to existentialism as easily as if he were David Lynch. The difference here is that Crowe holds himself accountable to providing answers -- something Lynch has considered beneath him. A script's worth of dreamy fragments and elliptical time lines resolve themselves in a manner that most viewers should grasp. Whether they will curse or cheer Crowe for what he decides to keep withheld is up to the individual. Tom Cruise's evident comfort working with his Jerry Maguire director results in a daring performance that can be as unsettling to watch as his most wrenching scenes in Born on the Fourth of July. Disfigured in an accident, his David Aames must interact with the world stripped of his beauty, left to contemplate the arrogant nonchalance with which he manhandled people. Penelope Cruz (who began dating Cruise during filming) continues making strides as an actress, and Cameron Diaz exudes an intense combination of sadness and rage that earned her a variety of acting citations. Whether viewers emerge feeling gypped or gripped, they're likely to carry Vanilla Sky around with them for awhile -- an increasingly rare attribute worth applauding.
by Derek Armstrong review