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This third feature from Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) is a maddening, magnificent piece of film-making, and an ensemble film to rank with the best of Robert Altman (Short Cuts, Nashville)--every little piece of the film means something, solidly placed for a reason. Deftly juggling a breathtaking ensemble of actors, Anderson crafts a tale of neglectful parents, resentful children, and love-starved souls that's amazing in scope, both thematically and emotionally. Part of the charge of Magnolia is seeing exactly how many characters Anderson can juggle, and can he keep all those balls in the air (indeed he can, even if it means throwing frogs into the mix). And it's been far too long since we've seen a film-maker whose love of making movies is so purely joyful. This electric energy is reflected in the actors, from Cruise's revelatory performance to Reilly's quietly powerful turn as the moral centre of the story. While at three hours it's definitely not suited to everyone's taste, Magnolia is a compelling, heartbreaking, ultimately hopeful meditation on the accidents of chance that make up our lives. The soundtrack features eight wonderful songs by Aimee Mann, including "Save Me", around which Anderson built the script. --Mark Englehart