An addict, a cop,
a kid who can rap,
a woman arrested,
a wife with pills,
a schoolboy tested,
a whiz with grills,
a douche detested,
a man with ills,
a patient dying,
a male nurse trying,
a dog on the floor,
and froggies galore.

These are the characters that weather Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia.” Yes, it’s a lot and Anderson accommodates them by expanding the movie to three hours. It’s a daunting length for the average viewer; this is not even considering that the film is a bit cloudy and gloomy. But for the curious and open-minded, “Magnolia” might magically be a worthwhile watch.

To his credit, Paul Thomas Anderson is not a timid director. He instantly grabs you with a spellbinding intro (goose bump-inducing stories of coincidences) and keeps the momentum forward. He floods the screen with vibrant urgency as to save us from sinking to sleep. He pulls out tricks in bolts and lightning – brisk camera movements, quick cuts from one story to another and revelatory performances.

“Magnolia” has an impressive cast. I counted six Oscar nominees which includes William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. As a group, they’re uniformly great; each principal actor has their own dark moment to shine. Tom Cruise, who I thought would be overrated, was in fine form. He plays an “expert” of a wham-bam program to banging women. It’s a flashy charismatic role, but it’s written more complex than I expected. And Cruise is very convincing in his latter scenes, all wrapped up in agitation, anger, and even innocence. I was also taken by the late Jason Robards. He lies on a deathbed for all his scenes and yet, in his weak, croaking voice, he is able to convey voluminous emotions.

And for that matter, so does Paul Thomas Anderson. Through his characters, he is able to express wisdom concerning death, love, infidelity, regrets, and the failure to connect. And while his stories are soaked in anxiety, stress, and misery, he builds the film’s structure on hope. The characters might be emotional “loners” but darn it, Anderson lovingly assembles them together; their lives thematically intertwined. He even ends the movie with a stormy miraculous act. Not quite the splashy all-is-well Hollywood ending, but builds on the promise that unlikely things will likely happen.

This is a complex and deep movie. I was a bit naive when I went “huh?” ten years ago. But now, I am really digging it (’cause, you know, it’s deep). “Magnolia” is a transcendent piece of work; the movie blossoms on a spiritual whim.

Grade: A

Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, and Melora Walters
Written by
Paul Thomas Anderson
Directed by
Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated R for strong language, drug use, sexuality and some violence.