Rating: 8.1/10 - Excellent
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson. Producers: Paul Thomas Anderson and JoAnne Sellar. Executive Producers: Michael De Luca and Lynn Harris. Cinematographer: Robert Elswit. Score: Jon Brion. Editor: Dylan Tichenor. Studio: New Line Cinema. Starring: Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Melinda Dillon, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay (Narrator), William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards and Melora Walters. Running Time: 188 Minutes. Age Restriction: 18 SNLV.
Jeremy Blackman stars as Stanley Spector, a young contestant in the battle of the smarts quiz show, What Do Kids Know?, which pits children against adults to see who is smarter. Stanley is the reigning champion of the show, thanks in no small part to the persistent pressure from his father Rick Spector (Michael Bowen) who is the perfect poster-boy for pushy parents who failed/are failing in their own careers and therefore seek to fulfill their ambitions through their children.
The quiz show is hosted by Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) who has been the host for quite a number of years. At the beginning of the film, Jimmy is diagnosed with cancer and so decides to use his last remaining days on Earth to try and reconcile with his daughter Claudia Wilson Gator (Melora Walters).
Claudia is a cocaine addict who lives in a dodgy apartment in an unsavoury part of town and, naturally, doesn't want anything to do with her father. Despite Jimmy's begging and pleading, Claudia refuses to reconcile with him and the ensuing disagreement is reported by one her neighbours as a disturbance which is then soon investigated by Police Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly).
Officer Kurring is one of those that annoy most people because they take their jobs a bit too seriously and end up looking more like nosy, busy-bodies than law enforcement officers. He also happens to be recently divorced and is quite a loner and as fate would have it, his over-eagerness leads him to investigate the case of domestic disturbance where he meets a very single Claudia.
Another lonely character who is desperately seeking love is "Quiz Kid" Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) who, as his name suggests, is a famous former contestant who won a large sum of money on What Do Kids Know? way back in the 60s. All that money is long gone by now and Donnie ekes out an existence as a salesman for Solomon Solomon's (Alfred Molina) shop. Donnie is currently infatuated with a handsome young bartender with braces called Brad and in order to catch his attention he decides to get braces for himself as well. Unfortunately for Donnie things go from bad to worse as Solomon decides to fire him just when he needs a stable income the most.
What Do Kids Know? is produced by Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), a wealthy but terminally ill (also with cancer) big-shot TV producer. Earl is married to Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore), a woman many years young than him who, due to the life threatening nature of his illness, is suddenly plagued by feelings of guilt for her past infidelities and resorts to abusing prescription drugs to overcome the guilt.
The dying Earl Partridge is nursed by Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who due to his kind and compassionate nature takes it upon himself to Earl with his estranged son Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise).
Frank T.J. Mackey is a smooth talking, pelvis shaking, ladies' man who makes his living from a self-help book titled Seduce & Destroy which seeks to help less talented men than him to get more women.
From Tom Cruise's astounding performance to the haunting score and the dazzling, and sometimes dizzying, camerawork it's not hard to see that this is without a doubt PTA's best work yet. He'll hard-pressed to make a better film than this but it sure as hell will be worthwhile experience to watch him try.
Verdict: A gripping, masterfully made near-masterpiece.
Magnolia is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.