What am I doing? I'm quietly judging you.
-TJ Mackey (Tom Cruise)
Tom Cruise is never better on screen than when he is playing a subverted version of his on-screen persona. His choices are canny - he knows how he is perceived by audiences and is always clever in leaning into that persona when warranted and knowing when the audience want him to lean away.
Magnolia has Cruise almost challenging the audience to embrace him on screen. He knows how some of the audience feel about him and he wraps himself in that revulsion. As TJ Mackey, Cruise is seen as a self-help guru presenting seminars to dispirited men on how to embrace their masculinity and attract woman through mind games. As Cruise prances back and forth on screen, he's begging the audience to hate him.
TJ Mackey is Cruise as the smug jerk. It delivers the audience the satisfaction of knowing they were right about Cruise all along.
The genius of Cruise is knowing when to strip away that artifice and let the audience in. Cruise has never been better than the final act of Magnolia where the character is laid bare on screen, revealing the man that lies beneath the bluster and pomp of the MRA-styled guru.
Magnolia airs on Friday night on SBS.