Magnolia ★★★★★

No. 48:
Empire Magazines Greatest Challenge: 301 films, 301 words

Following on from the enormous success of Boogie Nights, New Line Cinema gave Anderson the opportunity to make anything that he wanted. What began as a intimate small-scale picture quickly ballooned into something approaching an extraordinary epic.

The story follows an ensemble cast of characters swirling around the central plot point of a dying television producer’s attempts to contact his estranged son. The plot is an incredibly simple one, and the film kind of knows this, but it works because of its unprecedented focus towards the characters and their inner lives as they intertwine over the course of 24 hours in San Fernando Valley. Seemingly random interactions are grafted into the greater scheme of a universe forming sense out of pure chaos. This is where the greatest beauty of Magnolia lies and why it might possibly be one of the greatest American pictures of the last 20 years. This is an incredibly austere film (although not without humour) that establishes its goals early on as simply showing life and drama unfold. The film is fabulously cast and every performer is allowed to run with their own ideas, marking the signs of a great director open to letting artistry literally flower. Its screenplay is lengthy but alive and controlled with some remarkable sequences.

The entire film drifts forward like a montage, winding up the tension of the ensuing drama tighter than any thriller, and the seemingly relentless score by Jon Brion crescendos for entire scenes before receding for just as many. Its beautiful, off-white colour pallet adorns the film with probing atmosphere. It’s a highly emotional experience that challenges ideals of pain, happiness, purpose, but most importantly forgiveness. While not coming to any great conclusion concerning its plot, the magnificence in its structure and content allow enough to let it define itself.

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