I own Magnolia on DVD. It's a mesmerizing movie; seeing all these disparate characters and how they relate to each other is fun to watch. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has gone from the Altmanesque ensembles of his earlier films to smaller, tighter, more focused casts, and though he takes a longer time between films, they're always worth the wait. His latest, The Master, was shot in 70mm, the first fiction film in that format in almost twenty years, and I cannot wait to see it. Here's a recent interview with Anderson on The Master that's well-worth reading.
A role like Cruise's in Magnolia could easily dominate the entire film. The flashy theatrics of men's self-help guru Frank T.J. Mackey when he's on-stage, not to mention his emotional breakdown when he confronts his absentee father, are undeniably showy and "actor-ly," but what really sells both the character and Cruise's performance for me is the interview scene, where the reporter - who, to her credit, doesn't back down from Frank - attempts to probe into his personal life, and you can see Frank's shields slowly go up little by little, the barely-repressed rage bubbling close to the surface. There's also a little bit of real-world subtext as well - Cruise's association with Scientology has made him, like Frank, a somewhat controversial figure with certain views that challenge conventional wisdom. If nothing else, it's one of his most memorable roles. It's rare that someone of his superstar caliber gets to be part of an ensemble, especially one as deep and talented as this.