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Magnolia   A+

New Line Cinema

Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Melinda Dillon, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, Melora Walters.

Review by Gauti Fridriksson

I go to the movies a lot. On average, I'll see around two movies per week. Over the past few years, I've seen many good films, many mediocre ones and a whole slew of bad ones. There have even been a few wonderful films, such as American Beauty and Being John Malkovich, films that possessed the capacity to stir my very soul with their warmth and ingenuity (respectively). But none -- and forgive me for shouting, but I cannot emphasize this strongly enough -- NONE have had the effect on me that Paul Thomas Anderson's amazing masterpiece Magnolia has.

Now, I do have a little confession to make. I actually saw this film a while ago in the theater, and didn't actually count it as an immediate masterpiece. Sure, I liked it on an intellectual level, but it didn't really move me. It wasn't until one rainy night last week that I decided to pick it up and watch it again, feeling in the mood for something deep and brooding. I was completely unprepared for what this second viewing would do to me.

Over the course of the next 186 minutes, I sat mesmerized as an interweaving web of life-sized proportions was magically woven into my consciousness, the beauty of life itself painted on a canvas of celluloid by a master's hand. I would laugh, I would cry, and I would stand in awe of the sheer brilliance that flowed from the screen. I know I'm waxing poetic here, but hey... I could sound a thousand times sappier and still not come close to describing the emotional impact this film had on me. I'll try to calm down and explain.

The film begins with an uncannily appropriate mood-setter. We are given a few vignettes detailing some urban legends where amazing coincidences suggest the hand of fate at play. This scene sets a kind of brooding mood for the film that never really leaves it. The director, Paul Thomas Anderson (or God, as I like to refer to him) complements this with the use of floating, semi-ambient music throughout, and the whole time there's this intangible sense of a continuous undercurrent, a magical feeling that there's some benevolent, unseen force watching over the characters' lives, and that it's allowing us, the audience, a little peek. All this would, of course, be impossible without the requisite realism, the power to make us believe in the characters. Which brings me to the performances.

It has to be said that this film has one of the best casts I have ever seen anywhere, a magnificent ensemble sporting Tom Cruise as a chauvinistic playboy telemarketer, Philip Seymour Hoffman as a saintly nurse, Julianne Moore as a distraught wife, John C. Reilly as a simple but virtuous police officer, and William H. Macy as a former boy genius down on his luck. And that's just skimming the surface. Every single actor does their job admirably, but deserving of special mention is Tom Cruise, whom I had unduly dismissed a while back as a pretty face, but who here shows a blazing dramatic flair that takes him to another level altogether.

All of these characters are connected in an interlocking web of relationships that the film presents to us with graceful, natural ease. Plot developments flow from the characters' actions as swiftly and confidently as if it were documentary material, a testament to Anderson's brilliant screenwriting. And throughout the film's three hours, the audience is exposed to moments so shocking and others so touching that it can be likened to an emotional roller-coaster ride. Of particular note are the film's most notorious scene -- a rainstorm of biblical proportions -- and another one in which all the main characters, in a series of cuts, sing along to the same song, Aimee Mann's enchanting "Wise Up." I can't keep count of how many times I've seen this film, and yet this scene never fails to elicit a tear from me.

I cannot imagine a film with more atmosphere, more emotional intensity, a film as flat-out beautiful as Magnolia. It paints a portrait of life itself, and the portrait is such an exceedingly beautiful and mysterious one that I am shaken to my very foundation. And even with all the words I've written, and all the words that I could yet write, I still can't touch the very essence of what it is about this film that makes my heart soar and my spirit shiver with delight. And maybe -- just maybe -- that's the point.

Review published 03.10.2001.

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