A trophy wife’s guilt-ridden love for her dying husband.
A lonely cop’s search for companionship.
A cheating husband seeking forgiveness in his hour of need.
A son’s conflicting hatred and love for his dying father.
A father profiting from his child’s genius.
And so begins the tightly woven tapestry that is Magnolia, the 3rd feature film from writer/director P.T. Anderson. Magnolia is a movie that defies classification - hailed as a masterpiece, and canned as excessively self-indulgent by critics in equal measure.
The follow-up to Anderson's critically acclaimed ‘Boogie Nights’, Magnolia is set over a 24-hour period, and follows the lives of nine seemingly unrelated characters in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley - all lost souls searching for redemption from the collective misery that is their tortured modern lives.
Presented as a patchwork of tangential subplots, Magnolia follows each of these characters on an emotional journey - all individual, yet somehow connected. Each is pushed to the edge of despair by circumstances out of their past, and seemingly beyond their control.
|"The book may say that we are through with the past, but the
past is not through with us
Excellent writing, direction and an ensemble cast make Magnolia a wonderful and moving movie experience. There is no central narrative, no protagonist, no top billing. Each of the subplots, presented concurrently, provide a deeply moving character study – each a well crafted drama in their own right.
More importantly, the direction and editing are so effective that Anderson, cutting back and forth between various scenes, builds and builds a dramatic tension that leaves you awe-struck. Each of the subplots feeds the dramatic tension at just the right rate, simultaneously culminating in an apocalyptic climax of biblical proportions.
At over 3 hours, Magnolia is long. Personally, I hardly noticed. Anderson (in his wisdom), provides plenty of time for the characters to develop – just leaving the camera on his actors and letting them flourish. Some will feel that the movie is the worse for it - seeming to drag out each chunk of exposition into excruciating monotony. For others (including myself), Anderson has created fantastic characterisations brought to life by skilled performers.
In particular, Tom Cruise is somewhat of a revelation. Playing the egotistic, misogynistic self-help guru Frank T.J Mackey, author of the quintessential pick-up system 'Seduce and Destroy', Cruise (in his Academy Award nominated performance) is surprisingly funny and believably moving. Magnolia should be viewed for his performance alone. Also worthy of mention is John C. Reilly's endearing portrayal of a lonely cop in search of love and the always fantastic William H. Macey provides his best performance since Fargo. Throw into the mix Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Jason Robards (in one of hist last performances) and you have a masterpiece in the making.
What binds the diverse stories into a collective, coherent whole are the many themes running the length of the movie. In one thematic thread, Anderson suggests (from the comedic outset), that life is not a series of logical linear events that have a reasonable outcome., but is ruled by coincidence and chance. Secondly, and probably more centrally, Anderson discusses the manner in which human-beings treat each other, in particular, the relationships between parents and their children.
Like the transfer, there is little fault to find with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 sound track. Without giving anything away, the movie’s climax is a spectacular audio experience. Magnolia features a very prominent and moving score which is used to provide a constant tone across all concurrent threads of the story. It also aids Anderson in building the dramatic tension of all his stories simultaneously.
For most of the movie, the dialogue is clear and nicely integrated. However, songs by Aimee Mann appear at prominent positions within the movie and it is at these times that the music effectively drowns out the dialogue. This is obviously an artistic choice by Anderson, but for what purpose I cannot guess. Thankfully, in the middle of the film the characters overcome this problem themselves by deciding to join in and sing along to the music track.