Simon Ramshaw’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Sounds sad as a weeping willow." - Thurston Howell
You know that beautiful, wonderous feeling when a film comes along and absolutely knocks you for six? When a film comes along and puts you through the emotional wringer? When a film leaves you drained, yet strangely invigorated? Yeah, this is what Magnolia has done to me.
There is no plausible way to express how much emotion and atmosphere this film gives off. From the unorthodox beginning to the uplifting end, this is a masterpiece of the most visceral proportions. There were moments in this that hit so close to home it was scary. All of the illness themes were an absolute sucker-punch for me, and they'll no doubt stay with me for quite some time. Even though there is an undeniable amount of melancholy that comes with this, it shows cinema to be effective on a whole new level. I can't remember a film that has hit me so hard and so unexpectedly, and had such a great impression.
On top of the emotional heft, there are wonderful performances left, right and centre. At the core of the film is John C. Reilly as a highly-likeable cop with a strong faith in God, and he absolutely steals it. I've failed to see many of his dramatic performances, but his subtle performance here is one of the most powerful I've ever seen. Funny, sad and awkward all at once, Reilly is the unsung hero of this epic tale.
Tom Cruise is a revelation too. A truly revolting creation, Frank T.J Mackey is the slimy, testosterone-fuelled sex guru from Hell. He's repulsive when we first see him, but as he slowly becomes more vulnerable through an excruciatingly stretched-out interview, a vicious yet horrifyingly-relatable rat is revealed. PTA has always been a miracle-maker when constructing the types of characters that are utterly irredeemable, and here is one of his undoubted masterworks in the form of Mackey. Cruise embodies the role with such conviction, it's hard to believe that it's actually the Mission: Impossible star that we're watching here.
I could go on all day and night about every performance, but I think I'll round it off with just one more. Young Jeremy Blackman as child prodigy Stanley Spector is an absolute heartbreaker here. At first, he's infuriatingly precocious, but as the human being is revealed through the hardships of freak-show/game-show What Do Kids Know progress, he's a gem. It's a wonder how he's barely had any work since Magnolia, because it could be the best child performance I've ever seen on film. The scene where he refuses to co-operate with the other players nearly had me in tears.
There is a multitude of little and large touches that make Magnolia the masterpiece it is. The opening is three bizarre events that somehow prove themselves to be plausible through the tenuous link of coincidence, and it sets the darkly comic and ultimately tragic tone for the rest of the film. A sequence near the climax sees all of the principle characters singing Aimee Mann's Wise Up in one of the most bravura pieces of film-making that this world has ever witnessed, and it carries astonishing power and surprise with it. At this point, I was sure I was about to burst into tears with what I'd just seen, but there was something that stopped me (MANLINESS: only steak tears for me!) And then, the final shot. I'm not going to spoil it, but...I'm speechless.
People have said that There Will Be Blood is PTA's masterpiece. Others have said it's The Master. Purists have said it's Boogie Nights. Only having two left to watch, I think I can say that this is equal, if not better, than There Will Be Blood. This is cinema sent from in a frog-storm from the heavens. This is serious top 20 of all-time material. Bravo.