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Magnolia (1999)

by British Film Critic

In 1999, Paul Thomas Anderson brought his pseudo ‘family trilogy’, which started with his directional debut Hard Eight, and continued with 97’s Boogie Nights, to a close with Magnolia, a film that upon second viewing, has not only taken my top spot for ‘best Paul Thomas Anderson film’ but has made it way right up into my top 3 of all time.

Never before have I seen characters on film so unbelievably vulnerable, so troubled. so open, so angry, so broken, as I have in Magnolia. They’re angry at their fathers, they’re angry at their mothers, they’re angry at their absence, they’re angry at a higher power, they’re angry at the void that replaces it, they’re angry at themselves, they’re angry at the cruel world they live in.

All of the cards are well and truly on the table, as we get to take a microscope to the complexities of these people, through the lens of the great Robert Elswit, through the controlled, ever chaotic direction of Paul Thomas Anderson and, of course, through the remarkable performances from perhaps the greatest ensemble cast I’ve ever been able to experience. Tom Cruise gives, wholeheartedly, one of the best performances I’ve even seen, and the same goes for Julianne Moore, and that’s not even mentioning any and all of the other actors, without whom there is no way the film would have come together as immaculately as it does.

Jon Brion’s score quite literally holds the weight of the film on its shoulders, carrying us from heavy moment to even heavier moment with astounding nuance, scaling up the stakes, in regards to our characters’ lives, but most importantly in terms of our characters’ emotional progress. At every point, he’s with you, venting into his composition precisely that which is being presented visually and what is being reflected internally, within us, the viewers. As I make my way back through PTA’s filmography, I’m perpetually reminded why he’s my favourite filmmaker of all time, and this most recent viewing in Magnolia could’ve have cemented that stance any more firmly.