The Sky Is Falling
Cameron Crowe, USA, 2001
Cameron Crowe has a serious record collection, and he's not afraid to show it
off. In such films as 1989's Say Anything, 1992's Singles and, of
course, 2000's charmingly autobiographical Almost Famous, rock
journalist/screenwriter/filmmaker Crowe has consistently used music to
underscore key moments in his films.
With his latest effort, Vanilla Sky, based on Spanish director
Alejandro Amenabar's Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), Crowe once
again proves he has a definite knack for emphasizing the dramatic highpoint as
this reality-bending tale of identity crisis viewed through the skewed lens of
darkest fate literally paces itself with each carefully chosen song.
Crowe establishes an eerily effective disconnected/disoriented tone from the
outset. Radiohead's "Everything In Its Right Place" drones with the line
"Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon" as silver spoon party boy/publishing
magnate David Aames (Tom Cruise, giving two hundred percent, as always) awakens
to an empty Manhattan, literally devoid of people, yet still screaming with product placement ads as he careens through a unnervingly abandoned Times
Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" appears several times throughout the film as
Aames attempts to figure out what is dream and what is reality after a jaded
friend/sex buddy, Julie Gianni (the wonderfully manic Cameron Diaz), drives off
a bridge, killing herself, disfiguring David's face, and sending him into a
As we hear Bob Dylan's "Fourth Time Around," Crowe proves he's not content
merely with audio reinforcement of the film's ideas, but also intrigued by the
notion of pop cultural touchstones, as well. Ames and a woman he's recently met, Sofia Serrano (a delightful Penelope
Cruz, reprising her role from the Amenabar original), recreate the cover shot of
Dylan and, then girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, walking towards West Fourth Street on
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album. Also, at a party for Aames, we don't
just hear snatches of John Coltrane's signature sax, we see the man actually
playing via a holographic image entertaining the guests.
If Crowe had bad taste in music, such blatant usage of pop-rock songs might
have grown tiresome. As it is, the tunes work. The film, however, is another
The basic setup of a Charles Foster Kane-like upstart with a controlling
interest in the publishing empire his late father built, constantly at odds with
a stodgy board of directors Aames amusingly refers to as the "Seven Dwarves,"
has promise. But while the film hints at a board-spawned conspiracy behind Aame's accident, this thread never pans out.
If Crowe had emphasized the depth of Julie's obsession and the paranoia of
the Seven Dwarves "plotting" against David, the film might have worked far
better than it does. As it stands, the explanation for what happens to David
after the accident (overcoming the damage to his face and, critically, the
shattering of his insufferable confidence) is too pat, too easily shoehorned in.
It lacks impact, because the payoff simply isn't justified by the setup.
Explaining exactly what the payoff is would spoil the surprise, and will not be
revealed here. Suffice it to say that it involves an awkward life after death
angle that fails to hold up under close scrutiny. Julie's obsession, and the
boards' conniving are established as more than red herrings early on, and suffer
unnecessarily when tossed casually aside for a far more fantastical revelation
at the film's conclusion.
The movie toys with the audience's perception of reality, but unlike the effective "gotcha" ending of M. Night Shyamalan's
The Sixth Sense, the shock of what's really going on simply doesn't add up to
what has come before. The desire to have a shock ending, when such a conclusion
is not consistent with the internal logic it's based upon, simply doesn't work.
If Ames is being punished for his vanity, then the ending is completely
unnecessary. Likewise, if the entire exercise was merely a head trip into what is real and what is not,
fine. But if that's the case, the entire plot could have been considerably more
Technically, Vanilla Sky is bedrock solid. Cinematographer John Toll's
(who earned back-to-back Academy Awards for Legends of the Fall and Braveheart) New York locations are marvelously rendered, while Crowe's
dialogue is smart, if occasionally hokey (especially some of the pearls of
faux-wisdom Cruz's Sofia is forced to utter -- reincarnation as cats, and so
forth). And the music, as we've already discussed, is top-notch throughout.
Like the Vanilla Sky in a Monet painting (to which the film pays
tribute), Crowe's impressionistic rendering of Amenabar's creation is an
intriguing but ultimately murky experiment in audience participation (here are
the pieces of the puzzle, now figure out what the hell's going on) versus
audience manipulation (this is what's really going on, your thinking caps are
no longer required). The film, while interesting to look at, ultimately crumbles
under the weight of its needlessly top heavy canvas.
design copyright © 2001-2011 Shaking Through.net. All original artwork,
photography and text used on this site is the sole copyright of the respective creator(s)/author(s). Reprinting, reposting, or citing any of the original
content appearing on this site without the written consent of Shaking
Through.net is strictly forbidden.