Blu-Ray Review: Magnolia

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Cutting right to the chase, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia is a masterpiece.  A masterpiece of acting, directing, cinematography, and most importantly, story.  I’ve always viewed the film as a selection of intertwining short stories that end up converging in a surrealistic storm (to describe the literal storm would ruin one of the great moments of the film) of coincidence and fate.  However, Anderson describes the film as one epic story, broken off into separate, but individually vital components of the whole. No matter how you break the structure down, the film works as an emotionally intense and beautifully tragic film.

It’s easy to see how Anderson was able to put together such an amazing cast with so few credits to his name.  Every role is a great one, complex and filled with amazing acting opportunities.  In a film featuring such brilliant actors as Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, etc. the real standout is Tom Cruise.  In my opinion, he gives the performance of his career as Frank T.J. Mackey, a despicably vulgar “self-help” guru who teaches guys how to “seduce and destroy” women.  I can’t think of a more unlikable character that he’s played.  And yet, he finds a way to portray levels to this character I would have never thought possible.  There is a moment, dialogue-free, where he simply stares at the camera, and in doing so, conveys an incredible depth and mixture of emotion.  He won the Golden Globe for his performance, and was nominated for the Oscar.

In fact, the film got three Academy Award nominations in total.  As mentioned above, one was for Tom Cruise, and the others were for Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Song.  None of these nominations were a surprise.  Even the song “Save Me,” was completely worthy of the nomination.  Music played a pivotal role in the film.  Mostly consisting of songs by Aimee Mann, her music added another layer to the film, perfectly resonating thematically with the action on screen.  Her lyrics serve as sort of an outward expression of the character’s internal anguish, and without giving anything away, eventually culminates in a brilliant moment of cathartic release for the entire cast.  Her music plays a literal role in the film, and it’s one of the most original uses of a soundtrack I’ve seen in a long time.

This is a movie that defies convention.  Almost impossible to describe, watching Magnolia is an experience.  This is not one of those films you can impartially observe in the background.  It requires patience.  Running three hours and eight minutes, the movie feels long, but it’s never boring.  There is a lot of information to process and it will be nearly impossible to forget.  I haven’t seen the film in years, and as I was watching it again the other night, I found myself remembering almost the entire thing. 

I’m sure it’s pretty obvious by this point, but I am recommending the newly released Blu-Ray.  The biggest extra on the set is the “Magnolia Video Diary,” which is exactly what it sounds like.  The diary begins before the first production meeting, and goes all the way through the entire ordeal of filmmaking.  Most “behind-the-scenes” special features really try to make the process of filmmaking seem glamorous, and that is not the approach here.  They make filmmaking look like the job that it is, and a stressful one at that.  The camera is running through the good moments and the bad, and while a lot of the production looked like fun, a lot of it didn’t.  I personally found this approach to documentation interesting, but I would understand if people prefer the usual glossy behind-the-scenes packages.

Also included are some short deleted scenes featuring Tom Cruise and his “Frank T.J. Mackey Seminar,” and the full “Seduce and Destroy” infomercial seen running in the background of several sequences.  Rounding out the extras are the two trailers and nine television spots, all of which perfectly encapsulate the film, and the music video for Aime Mann’s Oscar-nominated “Save Me.”

Overall, I found this to be a pretty good set of extras for what is a great movie.  The Blu-Ray looks and sounds fantastic, and is a worthy addition to any Blu-Ray collection.  I know I haven’t given a lot of specific plot information, but this is the type of movie worth discovering.  The back of the box describes the film using the words “violence, love, Game Shows, Biblical Floods, coincidence, weather, sing-alongs, self-help seminars and quests for redemption.” That’s about all you need to know.