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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 16:55 GMT
Sky's the limit for Cruise and Cruz
Penelope Cruz has starred in both versions of movie
Penelope Cruz stars in both versions of the movie
Entertainment correspondent Tom Brook in New York interviews Penelope Cruz as her new film - with boyfriend Tom Cruise - tops the box office chart in the United States.

Tom Cruise's new romantic thriller Vanilla Sky is not an easy movie to decipher.

On the simplest level it is the story of David Aames, a young hotshot New York publishing executive whose charmed existence comes to an abrupt end when his face is severely disfigured in a car accident.

This tragedy can be seen as the price he pays for casual sex with a vixen he has spurned.

But the real focus of this film is on his relationship with another woman, Sofia Serrano played by Penelope Cruz, who has touched him deeply and with whom he has formed an eternal bond.

Vanilla Sky aims to do more than just entertain.

Cruise and Cruz
Cruise and Cruz first stepped out in public at the première of Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Quite apart from examining the consequences of casual liaisons, director Cameron Crowe explores the downside of individuals investing in too much in fantasy.

The picture also tries to show how pop culture can have a decisive impact on our aspirations.

These lofty themes struggle to emerge from a film that has a complex structure.

The story unfolds through Tom Cruise's character, and it is not always clear whether the audience is witnessing his dreams or his reality.

Crowe is aware of the potential for confusion and wants the audience to know they will not be cheated.

" I'd love for them to know that the movie is rooted in reality. It's not a movie where you're told at the end it's all been a dream, part of it, is very real," he says.

However, in making its points about reality the film moves into quite far-fetched science fiction territory.

Although the picture has the potential to confuse, Penelope Cruz really likes the fact that Vanilla Sky can be interpreted so differently.

"The thing I love about the movie is that it is so open to discussion," she says.

Star vehicle

Cruz adds: "It is what it is for you, and the answers are in the movie, the movie becomes yours when you watch it."

While the film's content may stimulate debate, there is little dissent over what Vanilla Sky represents as an entertainment phenomenon.

It is quite unapologetically a Tom Cruise star vehicle.

Cameron Crowe
Crowe was impressed with Alejandro Amenabar's film
But Crowe, who collaborated with Cruise once before on the romantic drama Jerry Maguire, thinks in Vanilla Sky the star skilfully toys with his screen image to great dramatic effect.

He says Cruise "has a persona that he's played, a guy who is in control of the world". The director believes that in Vanilla Sky he turns that persona in an unexpected direction.

Prowess

Some critics see the film in less generous terms as a rather narcissistic project in which Tom Cruise is using Vanilla Sky to unwittingly act out with his own angst over ageing.

According to this view, the extreme difficulty Cruise's character has with his physical disfigurement is seen as an expression of the star's own anxieties as he faces middle-age and the loss of his physical prowess.

Even for those moviegoers who do not see such symbolism, Tom Cruise's real-life has already shaped expectations for the film.

While the picture was being shot the Cruise-Kidman marriage fell apart. Iin the months that followed it became public knowledge that Cruise and his co-star Penelope Cruz had become romantically linked.

Cruise and Cruz enjoy such a good on-screen chemistry that it has left many wondering if this was aided by their real-life affection for one another.

Cruz says, when they were shooting the movie they were not romantically involved.

"In that time that was a different relationship.

"We were working together, we were friends and then after the movie, with time, it became something else. But I always had a good communication with him."

Mix

Cruz is quite adamant that their real-life relationship will not affect how people view the film.

She maintains: "I think the movie is the movie, and our private life is private life. I don't think people mix those two things when you go to see the movie."

Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe won best screenplay Oscar for Almost Famous
As aficionados know, Vanilla Sky is a remake of the 1997 Spanish film Open Your Eyes, from director Alejandro Amenabar.

Crowe really admired the original Spanish picture. His version differs surprisingly little from the Spanish film.

While he has not really meddled with the story, he has injected his pop culture sensibility into the re-make.

Overall, Vanilla Sky seems to be a darker, more intense work for Crowe, although he does not necessarily see it as the most difficult picture he has made.

He found his last film, Almost Famous, which had strong autobiographical elements, more challenging.

Brisk business

He admits: "Almost Famous was dangerous in that it was so personal to me, and just making it was hard."

As a Cruise star-vehicle it gives the film strong opening box office, but because it is a demanding work and not an instant crowd-pleaser it may be difficult for it to maintain brisk business.

Already the view of film critics has been mixed.


All things considered, if you're going to miss one film this year, make it Vanilla Sky

Newsday
The New York Times praised Tom Cruise for his "impeccable marathon-man star turn" and said its narrative drive and soundtrack "partly camouflage a multitude of flaws".

But it was "lots of bad dreams rolled into one", The Wall Street Journal said.

"Its tone is unquenchably pretentious and its scale is overblown," according to its reviewer.

New York paper Newsday was also critical, saying: "All things considered, if you're going to miss one film this year, make it Vanilla Sky."

Despite criticism, Crowe thinks his romantic thriller is at least struggling to deal with some socially relevant issues.

But even if audiences do not latch on to the film's deeper subtext he hopes the picture will just be enjoyed.

As he puts it, Vanilla Sky is "just a ride, it's fun to see Tom and Penelope Cruz on screen together".

"They're really great together."

Crowe's plea has validity - the presence of appealing movie stars, a lively soundtrack and some truly arresting images means despite its shortcomings, many will probably find Vanilla Sky very entertaining.

See also:

13 Jul 01 | Showbiz
Kidman and Crowe 'holiday in Fiji'
08 Aug 01 | Showbiz
Kidman and Cruise keep distance
04 Dec 01 | Showbiz
Cruise speaks out on Cruz
08 Aug 01 | Showbiz
Kidman and Cruise divorce
17 Jul 01 | Showbiz
Cruise and Cruz 'dating'
06 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Cruise and Kidman: In pictures
06 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Cruise and Kidman: Broken dream
06 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Hollywood's hardest performances
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