On one random day in the San Fernando Valley, several people will each become involved in plots that make up the movie Magnolia, a strange and compelling movie from director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson.
The first thing you notice is that Magnolia is a weird movie. The movie immediately starts out with two stories about coincidences - both of which really happened. The first is about a diver that was found dead in a scorched forest; he had been scooped up by an airplane carrying water. The other one is about a boy who jumped off a building but before he could kill himself, his mom accidentally shot him with a gun while he was accelerating towards the ground. This sets the stage for Magnolia, a movie about several stories going at once that all relate to each other, even if they don't actually affect each other.
The first thing you notice is that Magnolia is a weird movie. The second thing you notice is that it has an excellent cast and acting that far exceeds that cast. The movie co-stars a variety of people, many of which are very recognizable. The characters are Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore), Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise), Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman), Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), Claudia Wilson Gator (Melora Waters), Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly), and Dixon (Emmanuel Johnson). Tom Cruise, who is a popular figure in his own right, steps out of his boundaries and delivers an extremely raw and vivid job as Frank Mackey. The way he talks and the way he looks gives us a good sense of his character, of the false shield around his real self. This is a very Oscar worthy performance. William H. Macy, one of my all time favorite actors, gives us more of what he's good at, a strange and deep character with extreme turmoil (Fargo is another example). And then there's John C. Reilly, who, though I can't remember his name half the time, is also one of the best actors out there. The movie is an ensemble piece but Reilly steals the show. This is his best movie yet.
The first thing you notice is that Magnolia is a weird movie. The second thing you notice is that it has an excellent cast and acting that far exceeds that cast. The third thing you notice is that this film has beautiful direction. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the movie flows with a sort of surrealistic mood similar to American Beauty, although in a much harsher tone.
And what is wrong with Magnolia? The length. It is an excruciating three hours long, and it is one thing when soldiers are fighting in World War II, but another when there are a bunch of character-driven stories that don't even relate. Some scenes are overly long as they are supposed to be artistic, and some scenes are sort of pointless. There are other scenes that are supposed to mean something, but there are so many of them that they just end up seeming like clutter.
But it the movie is good. Really good. If it weren't so long it would be excellent. Magnolia draws good acting and a good script together, and has the brevity to throw in one of the weirdest and most stunning endings ever (if you guess it, you must have heard about it from someone else). Magnolia, smoothed out by a cunning soundtrack, is one of 1999's more dazzling films.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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