It's never a bad thing when a film invites some brain work from its audience. With "Vanilla Sky", Cameron Crowe's much-anticipated update of Alejandro Amenábar's psychological thriller "Open Your Eyes", there is the invitation, indeed the necessity, for some serious yet ultimately highly rewarding mental weightlifting.
Opening with an astounding dream sequence in which Tom Cruise's emotionally aimless playboy David Aames sprints through a deserted Times Square, it quickly becomes clear that Crowe has left his signature feelgood terrain for altogether darker climes.
For Tom Cruise, it's a triumphant return to the acting territory last showcased in "Magnolia", with the intriguing risk that the role compromises his selling point: his handsome face.
The nightmarish plot finds his character's freewheeling existence shattered when on-off "bed buddy" Julie (a seductively menacing Diaz) discovers that David's affections are aimed at Sofia (Cruz). Julie's jealousy-fuelled response is to drive off a Central Park bridge, with David as her passenger. Emerging from a coma facially disfigured, David's life descends into a maelstrom of confusion.
Any other plot details would sound incoherent, yet with Crowe's stunning visual trickery allied to his trademark snappy dialogue, human characters, and a welter of music/pop culture references, the resulting reality-shattering developments become as captivating as they are delirious.
Cruise's tormented performance is well supported by Diaz's edgy turn, which flows easily between playful and downright menacing. Reprising her role from "Open Your Eyes", Cruz is an enchanting screen presence, while Jason Lee is immensely likable and self-deprecating as Aames' best friend.
Genre-traversing and emotionally bold, this is Cameron Crowe's 'art' film - visually beautiful and thought-provoking. A tremendously vivid work which rewards patience and attention with a wonderful and exhilarating resonance.