Magnolia Review

by "Jason Wallis" (rwallis AT inreach DOT com)
February 1st, 2000

Rating (out of five): *****
Starring John C. Reilly, Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymore Hoffman, Melora Walters, William H. Macy, Jeremy Blackman, Alfred Molina, Luis Guzman and Ricky Jay
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by Anderson
Rated R for profanity, drug use, brief nudity and suggested sex Theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1
Released in 1999
Running 188 minutes

It's difficult to put into words the kind of impact that a film like Magnolia leaves you with. It's a film so beautiful, so profound, so unexplainably exhilarating that you can't help but feel charged after seeing it. But.....

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: this is not a film for everybody. Something happens at the end of Magnolia that will be talked about and pondered over for years to come, dividing critics and public alike into those who see no relevance in the event, and those who see it as the most original and innovative sequence in recent movie history. Taken at face value, it's a plot twist so arbitrary and outlandish that it's likely to send a good deal of theater patrons out the door, laughing and clutching their sides (at the screening I attended, a good percentage of the audience walked out in such a way).

Although, once examined and taken into context with the rest of the film, I can think of no better way to end the movie. And it is your tolerance of this ending that will finalize your feelings about the film. However, despite what your personal opinion of the movie may be, there is no denying its originality.

Sure, the basic premise is familiar; chronicling 24 hours in the lives of an assortment of San Fernando Valley citizens, Magnolia probably sounds more than a bit like Robert Altman's 1993 film Short Cuts, another three-hour-plus drama interlinking various, seemingly-unrelated characters and events. But it's director Paul Thomas Anderson's style that sets this film apart from it apparent predecessor. While Altman's film was bitter and pessimistic, Anderson shows a great deal of affection for each of his creations.

>From foul-mouthed sex guru Frank T.J. Mackey (an Oscar-worthy Tom Cruise) and his dying father (Jason Robards) to a kind-hearted cop played by John C. Reilly (who also starred in Anderson's other two features, Hard Eight and Boogie Nights), every character in Magnolia is treated with the utmost respect. Nobody in the film's huge cast ever falters, and Anderson leads them with such a sure hand that it's no surprise that they make up the best ensemble performance I've seen in years.

But this is so much more than just a film showcasing great performances. Tackling universal themes such as forgiveness and redemption like no movie I 've ever seen (and probably ever will see), Magnolia is a very important achievement in the art of filmmaking.

At one point late in the picture, a key character observes that "you may be done with the past, but the past ain't done with you". While most movies would simply address this theme by use of conventional standards, Magnolia reaches for something more, and conveys its theme with all the intensity and rage of a thunderstorm. Therein lies its brilliance.

Copyright 2000 Jason Wallis

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