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The Five Best Characters Created by Paul Thomas Anderson

It’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s birthday today, so I’ve decided to honour the greatest living American film director (that’s right, I said it!) by presenting us with a look into his amazing mind and five crazy, unique characters that only he could have created.

1: Rahad Jackson, Boogie Nights (1997)

Even more astoundingly memorable than Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler or Burt Reynolds’s Jack Horner is Alfred Molina’s Rahad Jackson, who appears in only one scene, but one of the best scenes Anderson ever directed. His great tastes in American music and fiery rage with a gun are only two of the great reasons he’s on this list. Anderson created a character that any director or writer could easily have taken overboard, but has the right amount of great comedic value and genuinely chilling attitude.

2: Officer Jim Kurring, Magnolia (1999)

A warm source of naive empathy and contrasting experienced wisdom that is naturally necessary for a film like this, John C. Reilly delivers perhaps the most convicted and developed performance of his career as a young cop who falls in love with a drug addict, just one of various storylines in Anderson’s epic Boogie Nights follow-up. Delivering empowered Cops-style monologues to an imagined camera, and suffering for his job in the name of a God he’s forced to believe in following the death of his wife, Kurring is one of the most easily relatable and intricately accurate portrayals of hilarious naivety and saddening realization. Tough part of the job. Tough part of walking down the street.

3: Frank T.J. Mackey, Magnolia (1999)

In a brilliant film like Magnolia with so many characters, it’s easy to pick more than one and so here is another: an Oscar-nominated performance from a surprisingly excellent Tom Cruise as one of the most basically complex characters in the Anderson universe. Mackey is a man who is easy to despise. But he, like many of us, has been hurt, his life changed forever, by cruelty. He’s more of a victim than he is a perpetrator, and misogynistic or not, he’s a broken, unmended man, and Anderson has captured that perfectly.

4: Barry Egan, Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

It just goes to show that Paul Thomas Anderson can get a brilliant Oscar-worthy performance out of an acting failure like Adam Sandler. His performance as Egan is multilayered and filled with mental complexity, but he is written so brilliantly, so excellently, that it is easy for Sandler to rip his teeth into it and shine in the role he was born for.

5: Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood (2007)

Daniel Day-Lewis gives one of the best acting performances of all time in a stunning role as a man consumed by greed and sin, a man on whose face we see nothing but unrelenting age, and in whose eyes we see only brutal, unflinching hatred. I look at people and see nothing worth liking, says Plainview, and it is one of many chilling observations that are windows into the soul of a truly evil man. Sure, Day-Lewis brought him to life, but Anderson conceived him, and without him, we’d be without one of the most formidable, terrifying villains of all time, beating the hell out of Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates by miles.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Anderson, and hopefully with The Master, there’ll be yet another character/s to add to the list.

Step Brothers: Ballad of a Teabagged Drum Set

There are films such as Step Brothers that when I hear of their release I groan and try to forget about them. And usually that’s a wise decision. But occasionally you come across a really silly and stupid comedy that’s actually relatively good (cue The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad, among others). It was only recently I became a fan of John C. Reilly (or perhaps more aptly put, ‘It was only recently I became a fan of Reed Rothchild’) and so I felt obliged to see this outrageous film.

I was… surprised. It was good. There were genuinely funny scenes, and the dialogue is actually very humorous, if immature and overused. They are not the sort of thing you would feel comfortable laughing at, and even when you do, its in a much more comfortable climate. Step Brothers is very uncomfortable.

It is a film about a man who marries a woman. They both live with their respective sons, who are both pushing forty (or should I say ‘the sons both live with their respective parents’) and are lazy and unemployed. John C. Reilly is his son and Will Ferrell is hers. Initially they both hate each other, as in the scene when Reilly strokes his scrotum along the surface of Ferrell’s beloved drum set. But eventually the two become friends and get into some strange and often very stupid shenanigans.

There is an unmistakable level of almost unforgivable immaturity. The two middle-aged men act like they are twelve, perhaps due to a lack of communication with the outside world. The chemistry between them works on a level of brotherhood, but is slightly doubtful. They predictably manage to pit their parents against each other whilst in the midst of their own self-indulgent feuds.

In the film’s funniest scene, the boys (ask me to call them men, I shall laugh in your face) preview a music video they have secretly created. Reilly’s father is shocked to see his prized boat being used within the video as the two boys (ha-ha) rap about ‘boats and hoes’. The video ends with the boat being accidentally destroyed. Ha, ha.

It is moments like these we realize how stupid the characters are, and yet there is some mysterious intrigue and curiosity about them that draws us in. Mostly we just want to see what they will do to each other next. There are terrific moments (“I heard my son shout RAPE.” “He was gonna rape me, he had that look in his eye and he said Let’s get it on!” “I was talking about the fight, dipshit!”) all throughout and some generally amusing scenarios. But overall, there are a few disappointing things: Ferrell and Reilly have good comedy, but they just don’t know how to present it. Quickly enough, we get tired of their shenanigans and begin to think that perhaps their characters actually do have some sort of mental deficiency.

If you don’t get tired of people shouting at each other, attacking each other, burying each other alive, breaking bunk beds over each other and just generally acting nonsensical, and you like comedy, then Step Brothers may just be the movie for you. But I warn you, don’t expect too much. You might just be very disappointed.

My Rating: 6/10