Michael De Luca was New Line Cinema’s prodigy executive in the late 1990s when he went with his gut and granted Paul Thomas Anderson final cut on his follow-up to “Boogie Nights.” Though Anderson’s sophomore effort didn’t set the box office on fire, his porn-industry saga earned raves from critics and racked up three major Academy Award nominations. Lacking a leash, Anderson flung himself into the San Fernando Valley fantasia of “Magnolia,” which mashes together a motley collection of broken characters en route to a finale of stunningly biblical proportions. It’s the kind of film that cannot, under any circumstances, get made today.
One of the key players in this fever-dream drama is Frank TJ Mackey, a misogynistic motivational speaker played to sleazeball perfection by Tom Cruise, who ministers to sad-sack men desperate to get lucky with women. Mackey, after being introduced to the cosmic strains of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” preaches empowerment to his adoring crowd via one hilariously pathetic phrase: “Respect the c**k, and tame the c**t.” He struts about the stage clad in a leather vest and a form-fitting long-sleeved t-shirt, which he accentuates with a greasy tousle of hair tied back in a half-ponytail that sprays onto his shoulders like his hairdresser just struck crude in his scalp.
Mackey is nasty. He’s a profane charlatan whose toxic spiel is an aggrieved provocation to sexual harassment, if not assault. But Anderson adroitly cracks him open in the interview sequence with April Grace’s Gwenovier. His arc ends with him tending to his dead father’s addict wife at the hospital. He’s redeemed in some small way. But bros could easily walk out of that movie taking away the wrong message, which Norton’s Miles Bron clearly did.