By Joe Lozito
Writer-director P.T. (formerly Paul Thomas) Anderson's last film "Boogie Nights" seemed like the work of a filmmaker that had spent a lot of time studying "Scorcese For Dummies". But somewhere between the making of that film and "Magnolia" - his opus about loneliness, regret and forgiveness in the San Fernando Valley - Mr. Anderson has developed a unique voice and a startling gift for storytelling.
Again, Mr. Anderson assembles an ensemble cast working uniformly at the top of their respective games. There are some familiar faces: the always engaging Phillip Seymour Hoffman; Julianne Moore, who gets more radiant in every film; and a wonderfully subdued John C. Reilly. Perhaps the most surprising performance comes from Tom Cruise, who may have finally found the role he was born to play in Frank T.J. Mackey, a cocky seduction guru for men. Mr. Cruise bites into the role with more insight he found after all 21 months working on "Eyes Wide Shut".
This is an ensemble piece, but the real star of the film is Mr. Anderson himself who seems unbelievably comfortable crafting the story's many, many threads. He violently injects the viewer into the storyline from the first frame and he doesn't let up - even for its lengthy 188 minute running time.
Mr. Anderson has said that he structures his films like a song - specifically the Beatles' "A Day in the Life". This is evident in the positively operatic sweep of the film. He manages to build suspense within his many threads, floating in and out of the simultaneous action with the mastery of Robert Altman - obviously another inspiration for the structure of the film.
But this is not simply "Altman For Dummies". Mr. Anderson has emerged as his own filmmaker with a style that is somehow more brilliant than the sum of its parts, and a film that is easily one of the best of the year.