Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: John C. Reilly, Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy
Got 3 hours to spare?
The six degrees of separation state that you’re never too far away from amazing people, extraordinary things happen everyday to loads of people, and it’s something the human race often take for granted. ‘Magnolia’ highlights this point of presupposition and expands on it, in quite a beautifully captivating style; giving us a glimpse into numerous peoples inattentive intertwined lives on a seemingly ordinary day in South California.
This is a film that hasn’t really set out to be anything ground-breaking or magnificent, but while prevailing in that to certain individuals, this film is just quite ordinary; but not in a bad way. The film is filled with many characters who are, basically, really ordinary people; the sorts of people whom you may even come across (or have come across) during your life, which makes for a set of characters which are easy to get along with.
This is a strange aspect, when contemplating it, the characters actually aren’t really all too well established; yet at the same time, are established really well.
A handful of characters are introduced in the beginning, in a nicely paced and well edited sequence. Each character instantaneously displays a certain nuance of their personality which, to the viewer, consciously or subconsciously gives away a great deal about them, and who they are. During the course of the film, these traits are sustained, and are also subtly developed, bringing about new depths to characters, whilst also distorting certain preconceptions developed in their initial insertion.
The opening is fantastic, well shot and well edited; giving us a few examples of the way in which fate works, and how nature can pan out. After this the pace slows down a little to introduce the first of our characters, but it is still an acceptable and engrossing pace. However, after approximately 20 minutes, the momentum seems to notably decelerate as we delve into the early actions of certain people. While it is clear the pace has slowed down, it doesn’t seem to phase too much, this is mostly down to the brilliant cinematography, which alone is arguably strong enough to keep the viewer enthralled, if nothing else. Though, later on the progress picks up; during the course of the film it is realised that the pacing is a little inconsistent at times and seems to elevate the viewers interest, but for what reason?
There are several aspects to the film which seem to unnecessarily pique the intrigue of the audience, the most discernable of which is the soundtrack. This is a particularly messy element, whilst there are some nice compositions and songs chosen throughout; their combination, overlapping and crossing over can be a little disconcerting. The compositions are the biggest culprit here, the ambient music created gives a false sense of suspense, tension and intrigue by being oddly climatic. On first thought it is insignificant; the film is gripping enough to the point where it’s not impossible to forget about time, and how long you’ve been watching it. But when it feels like it’s coming to an end an hour and a half before it actually does, it starts to drag on.
About 1 hour and 40 minutes in, is the point at which it starts to feel a little laborious, but this is only due to the extrinsically momentous compositions.
Also, the heart of the film seems to be built upon character psyche; while there are some early distinctions shown, as mentioned, it takes quite a while to fully crack into the complete mindset of the characters…Possibly too long. Though, disdained from this, the acting is very solid and the character relationships are phenomenally entrenched.
One particularly surprising performance is from John C. Reilly, he is an actor who has been around for years, but is mostly recognised lately for his roles in the comedy genre such as ‘Talladega Nights’, ‘Walk Hard’ and ‘Step Brothers’. Having personally only ever seen him in ‘Talladega Nights’, I didn’t think Reilly to be anything that special in terms of acting ability; but his role as ‘Officer Jim Kurring’ in this film, is amicably convincing and well performed, especially the subtle negativities to the characters traits.
Generally the performances are convincing and well performed by a pretty talented cast compiled of familiar faces (but not in a daunting sense, such as ‘The Departed’). The only clear exceptions are Julianne Moore and Tom Cruise, whilst Moore can give some nice performances, there are certain moments where she is a little unconvincing, similarly for Tom Cruise. It is no secret that I have a personal contempt towards Cruise, but there have been certain instances where he has been tolerable (and dare I say; good.), however in the instance of ‘Magnolia’, he is being exactly what I’d expect; an over-actor. His early introduction is fairly tolerable, he displays tendencies typical to his real-life stereotype, and being the over-actor he is, he exaggerates upon these things and becomes the eccentric, energetic, arrogant and vaguely misogynistic ‘Frank T.J. Mackey’. Whilst initial appearances are tolerable in terms of acting ability, it is not until later where he displays some emotion. This emotion starts off as adequate, but then veers off into something a little bathetic.
The best part of this film, however, is the relationships between certain characters and the style in which they banter, communicate and behave with each other. There is something very natural and fascinating about this, and makes it a joy to see any character; in particular, an early scene between Macy and Alfred Molina, as well as a scene between Reilly and a young boy.
Overall, this isn’t a bad film. There are some nice issues raised, particularly that of child stardom (Which has proven to still be a hot topic today, specifically Miley Cyrus), as well as ‘gold digging’ and general depression. Whilst there is a lack of strong connection between audience and character, it works perfectly, making characters seem more natural and more human. This makes for some genuinely touching emotional scenes as well as some sympathy, and perhaps even empathy for certain characters. This makes for a script that works really well with some nice dialogue. But the major drawback of this film is the unnecessarily climactic soundtrack here and there, as well as the length which is roughly 180 minutes. Personally, I’m torn between the length; on one side it worked brilliantly in slowly unfolding the workings of each character, as well as telling their stories, yet on the other hand it feels like it could have been tremendously shorter. Despite this, this film is a solid 8 out of 10. It’s definitely worth making the time for…Even if you despise Tom Cruise.