A genuine act of courage

Magnolia (18) | Paul Thomas Anderson | 188 mins | Trailer The Cider House Rules (12) | Lasse Hallstrom | 125 mins | Trailer

Spreading over three hours, Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia is a mammoth opus. When I saw it, some people walked out after 30 minutes (loudly); some stayed right until the bit in the closing credits when the director gets to thank people by using only their initials.

It's hard to know what to make of a film like Magnolia. I'm still not sure myself. But I know that it didn't feel like it was three hours long, and that I left with that strange feeling of triumph and sadness you get when you've witnessed an act of courage. That this courage is born, one suspects, from a dictator's arrogance, from an assumption that we shall all follow waving and cheering, from a conviction that your work of art has done nothing less then scoop the truth, is almost irrelevant. It's still courage, and it's still art.

The film follows the various hazards experienced by a group of people living in the San Fernando Valley. They all prove to be connected. An ageing television executive (Jason Robards) is dying; his nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is kind in his stiff white jacket; his young wife (Julianne Moore) yells her disappointment; his son (Tom Cruise) preaches the benefits of machismo in a nasty seminar; a former kids' quiz show champion (William H Macy) freaks out; the quiz show host (Philip Baker Hall) gets sick; his daughter (Melora Walters) snorts coke; a cop (John C Reilly) asks her out, and so on.

It is Anderson's urgency that either delights people, or forces them towards the exit. After only a couple of lines of the opening song, we're off into the plot, with all its crashing about and weeping. The music, the whole high pitch of the film, never stops. It just gets louder and more certain, as though this were a meeting for charismatics. As in Boogie Nights, his previous film, Anderson might follow one character down a corridor, have them talking to somebody else, then take off and follow that somebody else, who might spy another out of the corner of their eye, and then we're following that person - on and on, and intensely, and non-stop.

Christ, you're thinking, it sounds like a nightmare. And haven't we seen all this before in Casino and Short Cuts? But Magnolia is particularly and gorgeously intimate. You remember the physical attributes of the actors more than anything else. It's not that these are more cameos than performances (each character is striking, each involved in lamentable struggles). It's just that the film's heart is really in its editing. I can still recall with clarity Hoffman's eyelashes - flimsy and distracting, like the eyelashes of strawberry blondes always are. Or Robards's death scene, and the look on his face, as though an empire were slipping away.

But what does Anderson really manage to cover? Scale has always been an American disease, and films like Magnolia, with their ferociously interconnecting short stories (what Gilbert Adair rightly calls "Altmania") give the impression that they could proliferate infinitely. And certainly Magnolia is big - huge, unbidden, breathing. It seems limitless. And yet some things do feel incomplete, brushed-upon, tangential. Magnolia does not have the last word on anything. But it is superb.

The Cider House Rules is a particularly tepid adaptation of John Irving's novel (by the writer himself, actually, but the book is much shrewder) and is notable only for a beautifully casual performance from Michael Caine as the doctor in charge of an orphanage in Maine in the early 1940s.

Tobey Maguire plays Caine's protege - glumly learning about abortion and obstetrics. A hit in the States (surprising, considering its pro- abortion stance and ugly incest subplot) the film at least has the well- read middle-class tourists' dream of New England to gawp at: eternal autumn and lobsters at dawn. It seems that films like this exist mainly to make you think longingly of the Founding Fathers watching flocks of passenger pigeons darkening the skies for hours in 1649, of men scooping cod out of the sea in baskets, of Herman Melville and his house "paved with clamshells".

Ordinary Decent Criminal, another film about the real-life Irish gangster Martin Cahill (see John Boorman's The General, which came out in 1997) is inappropriately jaunty. It stars - weirdly - Kevin Spacey as the Cahill character (renamed as Michael Lynch) and Linda Fiorentino as his wife. Ah, the jolly, jolly life of the gangster! He's a sort of Don Corleone meets Robin Hood. Ah, the strange, strange confusion of accents (even the Irish actors cartoon their vowels, so much so that you cannot afterwards think what an Irish accent actually sounds like.)

And Spacey's skills are beginning to get grating - they're beginning to feel more and more like a bag of tricks. He rarely really interacts, he never brings his note down at end of his sentences and he always, always seems to be enjoying a private joke. It doesn't help that he's pitted against Stephen Dillane, who is probably the best actor in Britain (although he keeps choosing duff films to be in). Dillane is so delicate, and relaxed, and clear: he is never adrift in his preoccupations, he never grows tired in front of us.

Rien Sur Robert is a blackly and gorgeously comic French film which stars Fabrice Luchini (so good as the lawyer in Le Colonel Chaubert) as a film critic who doesn't let not having seen the film get in the way of a caustic review quelle suggestion!) And the Czech Return of the Idiot visits love with a psychiatric patient - a character inspired by the hero of Dostoevsky's novel. It's small, but supple.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence