In a prelude to Magnolia (1999) we're told that in 1911 three men hung for murder in Greenbery Hill, England. The killers names were Green, Berry, & Hill. Other weird coincidences are recounted, absolutely dull urban folk tale stuff. After this perfectly awful, hoky, unfunny, bordering on moronic preface, a tale of coincidences finally begins.
The meat of the film is better than the dreadful preface, but the reliance on coincidences of various peoples' intersecting lives is not the best storytelling approach. It didn't work in Cigarettes & Coffee (1992), which was director Anderson's warm-up for Magnolia.
But it is a chance to see Tom Cruise play a creepy hate-filled self-help-vending televangelist who is walking poison but pretty enough people listen & pay up. A misogynist religious crackpot is something he can play much more credibly than when his sissy-ass is pretending to be an action hero in such commercial crap as the Mission Impossible films.
The only two times I've ever admired a performance of his was in this film in which he's a totally appalling gas bag, & in Collateral (2004) in which he's a psycho assassin. I just find him credible as a villain. Even when he's not acting.
Some great acting comes out of William H. Macy as a kind of mister lonely struggling out of the closet & Julianne Moore as the young wife of a curmudgeonly bedridden old fart (Jason Robards) & Philip Seymour Hoffman as the old fart's nurse trying to do a good turn for his patient but really should've stuck to nursing. It's a fine supporting cast overall. But sometimes the entwined storylines are so contrived it doesn't matter how well they're acted, it remains ridiculous.
A solid description of the entire film would be a count-down of character roles rather than a story. A single example is John C. Reilly as a cop who finds out he's got cancer. Despite everything he has seen being a cop, he tries to see the world through rose colored glasses. Since he's much older than Ann Frank, he just seems like a mook in denial.
Most of the characters are like that for me; they try to make humanity seem worthwhile, when they are each individually not so worthwhile. And it's why Tom Cruise as a disgusting man stands out as most believable even though over the top. Magnolia wants to be a soap opera about people being good, but they're so yucky that a villain shines greater.
In terms of "character" the film actually manages to one-up Robert Altman, as some of these characters are deeply felt & deeply played, sad lonely loserly souls susceptible to flimflams & trite dreams that won't come true. They can be very moving if you don't end up just wanting to bitch-slap some sense into all these dorks.
But then just as it's getting emotionally effective, another contrivance pops its head into the phony plotlines & you realize Paul Thomas Anderson is no Robert Altman much as he strives. He needs better scripts from better writers than himself, & then his ability to get fine acting out of his players may add up to more than mush.
Because of the plethora of storylines it runs to three hours. It doesn't get tiring so much as it gets annoying, because at its best it's the world's most artsy fartsy soap opera that could've stood to have been even longer, like maybe twenty years long in daily half-hour installments. But trying to watch it as a movie-movie instead of a condensed soap, it can piss a viewer off by being just a little too much daytime tv. However, to a population weaned on television instead of anything valuable, Anderson can come off as top notch.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl