The lives of a large group of characters intersect; some through direct connections and others through a combination of chance, circumstance and even divine intervention. At the centre is the wealthy Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) who lies dying of cancer and wishing to restore communications with his estranged son, Frank TJ Mackey (Tom Cruise), with the help of his nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The events of the day significantly affect the lives of each of the film's characters.

An electrically harrowing saga.

I don't think it's any accident that Henry Gibson has a small role in Magnolia – the connection to Robert Altman' sprawling, fragmented films like Nashville and Short Cuts is unmistakeable. Anderson has devised a film with nine different story strands – too many to fully cover here – but in one of them Jason Robards Jr. lies dying of cancer, tended by hired nurse Philip (Seymour Hoffman) while his much younger second wife Julianne Moore races around town trying to find answers and drugs. We don't know Robards' connection with Tom Cruise's character – a born again crusader for the rights of men whose motto is seduce and destroy – then there's a former game show whiz kid, William H Macy, now a sorry ineffectual salesman who's sure a new set of teeth will solve his loneliness. And the gameshow host, Phillip Baker Hall, who's desperate to re-establish relations with his estranged daughter Melora Walters who's got a major drug problem and who's the object of affection of a cop John C. Reilly...

full of compassion

Magnolia's about the lives we live, the damage we do. At a running time of over three hours, Magnolia is tragically way too long, if only because the ingredients are the stuff of great filmmaking, with a completely surreal and daring climax. With an array of simply wonderful performances – there isn't a weak one in the lot and Cruise and Robards are simply splendid – Magnolia is an electrically harrowing saga that's full of compassion. Aimee Mann's music and Robert Elswit's cinematography contribute majorly.

David's Comments: A disappointment after the excellent Hard Eight and Boogie Nights. The stories themselves aren't all that involving (comparisons with Short Cuts are inevitable), and the film's at least an hour too long. Still, there's a great opening sequence, a couple of magical scenes later in the film, and a superb performance from Tom Cruise. On the downside, this is the first time Julianne Moore's given a poor performance on screen.