An intricate mosaic of emotional stories intertwined by coincidence, "Magnolia" is an elegant exposé of human frailty written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who demonstrated his gift for burrowing under his characters' skins in 1997's melancholy porn industry soap opera "Boogie Nights."
He's honed that skill in the last two years, and his new multi-narrative, which features many of the same actors, is stunning and magnetic in its ability to tie you impulsively to even the most wretched of characters.
"Magnolia" takes place over the course of a single, unusually stormy (on a mythological scale) day in the San Fernando Valley and meditates on the complexities of family, and on the facades people put up to mask their insecurities, their grudges, greed and regret, their love, their selfishness and other symptoms of the human condition.
Jason Robards plays a dying rich man, painfully estranged from his rageful, resentful son, Tom Cruise. Cruise is astoundingly powerful as a vulgar, misogynistic, wildly egotistical motivational speaker who teaches emasculated men how to dominate and manipulate women.
Julianne Moore plays Robards' young wife, whose regrets about marrying for money have eaten away at her soul, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is his compassionate nurse who tries to reach Cruise to mend fences before it's too late.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Blackman is the brainy champ of a kiddie quiz show (featuring amusingly impossible questions) whose imposing stage father (Michael Bowen) has pressured him to the edge of manic neurosis. (A parallel track follows William H. Macy -- totally in his element -- as a mousy, miserable home furnishings salesman who clings desperately to his faded identity as the program's first star player some 35 years before.)
The quiz show host (Philip Baker Hall) is another ailing father trying to patch things up with his twittering, seething, cocaine-addicted daughter (Melora Walters), who in turn sees her chance for salvation in a kindly, insecure cop (John C. Reilly) who asks her out after taking a call about her loud stereo.
Each of these stories has such depth and scope they could easily be movies unto themselves -- especially with these across-the-board incredible performances that give the sense of these characters' entire lives. Anderson's dedication and skill at weaving them together with correlation and coincidence cannot be underestimated. He has this innate ability to turn everyday feelings of doubt, anxiety and ego into completely engrossing cinematic moments.
"Magnolia" has a beautiful, richly dark visual atmosphere that enfolds its characters and, as with "Boogie," Anderson's technique has a definite Scorsese bent to it. But you can't really fault the guy for taking his cues from one of the best, and the picture is otherwise entirely his own, as he demonstrates his rapt dedication to his stories -- and to his characters bulldozed by their emotions -- with rich details that bring an extra dimension of truthfulness to his film.
Cruise's performance is the most obvious example, as actor and director conspire successfully to garner our empathy for this loathsome, venomous egoist, even as we continue, by design, to despise him.
"Magnolia" is a potent work of concentrated humanity and a definite do-not-miss.
Run time: 188 mins
In Theaters: Friday 7th January 2000
Box Office Worldwide: $48.5M
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Production compaines: Ghoulardi Film Company, The Magnolia Project, New Line Cinema
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 118 Rotten: 23
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Julianne Moore as Linda Partridge, William H. Macy as Donnie Smith, John C. Reilly as Jim Kurring, Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey, Philip Baker Hall as Jimmy Gator, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Phil Parma, Jason Robards as Earl Partridge, Alfred Molina as Solomon Solomon, Melora Walters as Claudia Wilson Gator, Michael Bowen as Rick Spector, Jeremy Blackman as Stanley Spector, Emmanuel Johnson as Dixon, Melinda Dillon as Rose Gator, April Grace as Gwenovier, Felicity Huffman as Cynthia, Orlando Jones as Worm, Ricky Jay as Narrator/Burt Ramsey, Patton Oswalt as Delmer Darion, Neil Flynn as Stanley Berry, Henry Gibson as Thurston Howell, Miriam Margolyes as Faye Barringer
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