Paul Thomas Anderson's follow up to his amazing Boogie Nights
is an extraordinary, ambitious yet slightly flawed masterpiece that
tackles some important themes. Magnolia explores how chance,
coincidence and random occurrences can play a large part in shaping
our lives, and how the past impacts on the present. Anderson also
deals with larger themes of death, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Another common thread running through the film explores the
psychological damage that fathers can, both knowingly and unknowingly,
inflict on their children.
The action of this sprawling pseudo-epic takes place over the
course of one inclement day in Los Angeles and follows nine principal
characters, whose lives are inexorably linked.
Dying millionaire Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) wants to
affect a final reconciliation with his estranged son (Tom Cruise).
His wife (Julianne Moore), who initially married him for his money, is
now tormented by her callousness and desperately seeks forgiveness.
Other characters who play an important role in the drama unfolding
include Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) a genial television quiz show
host with a dark secret that has scarred his cocaine sniffing daughter
Claudia (Melora Walters); Donnie Smith (William H Macy), a former
child genius who has trouble coping with the adult world, his faded
fame and his uncertain sexuality; and Jim Kurring (John C Reilly), an
incompetent but basically decent cop who falls in love with the
troubled and lonely Claudia.
An inexplicable phenomenon becomes the ultimate catalyst for
change, redemption, reconciliation, salvation, and a new beginning for
many of the characters.
Anderson is a wonderful and perceptive writer, with insight
into his flawed characters and the vagaries of human nature. Some of
the confrontations and intimate conversations between the various
characters are revealing but uncomfortable. Cinematographer and
regular collaborator Robert Elswit often works in close-up, which is
often intimidating and uncomfortable, especially in wide screen, but
somehow adds to the intimacy of many key scenes. But the camera
fluidly weaves in and out of the various narrative strands, bringing
the stories to life.
The characters are beautifully brought to life by the
performances of the ensemble cast, many a familiar part of Anderson's
regular repertory company. The standout performance comes from
Cruise, largely cast against type as a misogynistic, self-proclaimed
self-help guru who empowers men in their difficult relationships with
women. He is electrifying, and this ranks as one of his best
performances. Moore is hysterically overwrought and shrill as
Partridge's younger wife, and her uncharacteristically uneven
performance occasionally grates. Philip Seymour Hoffman (recently
seen in The Talented Mr Ripley) delivers a sympathetic performance as
Partridge's devoted male nurse, one of the few constantly likeable
characters in the whole film.
Although working on a vastly broader canvas than previously,
Anderson directs the material with the same assurance he demonstrated
on Boogie Nights. He pulls the various strands together with a
clarity that has lately eluded Robert Altman, the past master of this
sort of complex mosaic, and deftly constructed interlocking
multi-layered narrative. However, the pacing is a little too languid
at times, and there are many moments throughout that misfire
awkwardly. The early sequences introduce us to the story and the
myriad characters effectively enough, but the film tends to lose its
way a little in the middle.
Like most three hour movies, Magnolia is overlong and self
indulgent. There are several scenes that could have been trimmed and
tightened, without diluting Anderson's themes or lessening its
devastating emotional impact.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King