Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Note: This film was reviewed for the "1001 Movies You Must See" Club. Click here to read the reviews of other members.
Paul Thomas Anderson is perhaps the boldest filmmaker working today, and although Magnolia was one of the 1990's most overlooked films, it remains a stunning piece of cinema. It opens up with a five or six minute narration by Ricky Jay, as he explains three distinct incidents revolving around chance and coincidence. This is the framework of Anderson's film, and the results are mind-blowing. By the end, I'm not quite sure I was fully convinced this film actually had to be 188 minutes, but there are so many things in this film that occur without definitive reason that you have to be willing to sit through it. Not many people would read a plot summary about a group of intertwining stories and expect it to be a sprawling epic, but that is exactly what Magnolia is.
To try and explain the plot in this review would be pointless. I can, however, introduce some of the main characters, and the brilliant ensemble performances. Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) is a police officer, struggling to gain respect within his precinct. Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is a former TV producer dying of cancer. One of Partridge's last wishes is to see his son, and Earl's nurse, Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman), will stop at nothing to make sure this man's son makes a visit. His son just happens to be Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise), a man who gives seminars about taking advantage of women called, "Seduce and Destroy."
There are several more characters here. Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore) is Earl's young trophy wife, struggling with her emotions as her husband is on his deathbed. Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) was a former TV star on the game show "What Do Kids Know?", but he is no longer in the spotlight. Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is a young boy who is currently the star of that game show, as he leads the kids to victory week after week. Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) is the host of that game show, and he and his wife (Melinda Dillon) have just learned he is dying of cancer as well. Jimmy tries to inform his daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters), but she will hear none of it.
It is unnecessary to go into this film being familiar with each character's story, but I'm sure reading the names of some of those actors makes you want to see this one right away. It is a stunning cast, which surprisingly only received one Oscar nomination. That one nomination went to Tom Cruise's portrayal of Frank Mackie, and he is electrifying. Think about some of Cruise's career-best performances, in films such as Born on the Fourth of July, Minority Report, The Last Samurai, and Collateral. I'm not sure anyone plays intense better than Tom Cruise. He dominates the screen with these fearsome characters, but he always remains under control.
Every other member of the cast is just as good. This has got to be one of the most overlooked ensemble casts of the past twenty years. This is a film built on handfuls of characters and handfuls of stories, and if each actor wasn't able to engage our sympathy, this film could have fallen apart. It is a elaborate web of characters, but there are more parallels present than there appear to be on the surface. The more you think about this film, the more you come to appreciate the nuances and complexities.
This is also an epic with several definitive messages. The aforementioned prologue introduces some of the topics that Anderson is aiming for with this film. Remarkable things are being shown in this film about chance, coincidence, and also second chances. All of these characters are involved in some kind of crisis, and it just so happens that on this seemingly normal rainy day in Los Angeles, California, they might get a shot at salvation.
Regardless of the long running time, this film feels more like a thriller that a flat-out drama. The film features a brilliant soundtrack, with several songs by Aimee Mann, that plays throughout, and it helps to keep you on your seat's edge. All of the conflict that is built up in this film leads to a climactic moment that is unlike anything I've ever seen in a film before. It is one of the most daring, unpredictable climaxes I can remember, and for anyone who sees this film, it is sure to be talked about for quite some time. Magnolia is, like most Anderson films, something that needs to be seen multiple times to fully appreciate, but there is no question that this epic will always have a place among the director's finest work.