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USA 1999
Directed by
Paul Thomas Anderson
185 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars


Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s outstanding film which depicts the lives of an assortment of people over a 24 hour period may well alienate some for its unremittingly tragic perspective but even they should appreciate the brilliance with which the various stories are melded together to form a sustained whole thanks to Anderson's outstanding script and Dylan Tichenor's skilful editing.  Add to this. excellent cinematography by Robert Elswit who also did Anderson's previous films, Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, both 1997), Jon Brion's evocative score and Aimee Mann's songs, along with a tip-top cast (many of them reunited from the Boogie Nights) and the nigh-on three hour investment required pays off in spades

Tom Cruise was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Frank T.J. Mackey, a sleazily  misogynistic motivational speaker who provides a mesmerizing focal point of Anderson’s multi-faceted tableau.  Jason Robards is Earl Partridge, Frank's dying father whose devoted nurse is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore is Frank’s step-mother. Earl is the producer of a TV quiz show hosted by Philip Baker Hall’s Jimmy Gator who is also dying and is estranged from his daughter (Melora Walters), a coke user who becomes the romantic interest of John C. Reilly’s lonely cop.  Meanwhile William H. Macy’s “former quiz kid Donnie Smith” wants to get some expensive dental work done so that a hunky bartender will fall in love with him.

And so and so forth in a marvellously rich tableau of characters who, circumstances aside, are all related by their common experience of existential loneliness and disappointment in themselves and life itself, a theme which reaches its crescendo in a powerfully bleak montage accompanied by  Aimee Mann’s song “Wise Up” whilst the film climaxes astonishingly with a suitably apocalyptic storm of frogs.

There have since been other films such as Crash (2004) and Babel (2006) that configure the uncanny complexity of life by using interweaving narrative threads but Magnolia stands out for its vibrant imagination and the emotional wallop it packs. 




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