Magnolia (18)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD FEATURES: Colour Bars. Tom Cruise / Frank Mackie seminar. Teaser Trailer, Domestic Trailer. 9 TV Spots. Aimee Mann 'Save Me' Music Video. Frank Mackie 'Search & Destroy' Infomercial. 75-minute 'Magnolia Diary' Feature.

``RESPECT the cock; tame the cunt'' are hardly words you would expect to hear coming from the mouth of Tom Cruise - but then Magnolia, the new film from Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson, is never about subtlety or the familiar.

Rather, it is an evocative, frequently controversial, yet profoundly moving piece of cinema boasting a cracking cast at the top of their form. That Cruise beat the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards, William H Macy and Philip Baker Hall (all established character actors) to the Best Supporting Actor nomination at this year's Oscars, says much about how far the star has come as an actor, as it does about his appetite for risk-taking.

Cruise is nothing short of sensational as the expert on female seduction whose anti-feminist exterior (his book is called `Seduce and Destroy') belies an inner turmoil borne out of a hard childhood - the revelation of which makes for riveting viewing.

Combining that trademark Cruise arrogance with a bitter vulnerability which makes him far less likeable than usual, Cruise positively fizzles whenever on screen and his scenes with his dying father will probably rank among the most powerful of the year.

But he is only a small part of the film's rich tapestry - which features the lives of several men and women during a 24-hour period in Los Angeles.

Equally impressive is Jason Robards' cancer-ridden old man, whose dying request to nurse Seymour Hoffman (fabulous as ever) is to be reunited with his estranged son; or Baker Hall's ageing quiz show presenter, whose terminal discovery prompts some agonising soul searching and revelations of a dark past.

The typically towering Julianne Moore, as Robard's adulterous wife - forced to confront the fact that she now loves her husband - is also good value; as is Macy's former child genius, turned adult failure, who is desperate to reveal his homosexual love for a beefcake barman.

With so much going on, it is little wonder that Anderson's movie runs at over three hours, but stick with it and the rewards are massive.

Like a beautiful, blossoming flower, Magnolia grows slowly into the masterpiece it undeniably becomes; building to a completely surreal finale which is as uplifting as it is heart-breaking.

And at the centre of it all is John C Reilly's morally decent policeman, Officer Jim Kurring, whose relationship with Melora Walters' tragic drug addict is the movie's crowning glory.

With so much misery and despair surrounding them, there seems little chance of the couple making it; but it is this will they/won't they scenario which drives the proceedings, giving the audience people they can really root for.

If they can't make it, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

As shocking as it is complex, Magnolia is, quite simply, astonishing film-making and yet another must-see in a year already crammed with them.