Anderson's meandering multi-story megasoap with a message is over-ambitious, self-conscious, self-indulgent, self-important and clumsy into the bargain. But it's also one of the most enthralling and exhilarating American movies in ages. Much in the style of Nashville and Short Cuts (though lacking Altman's light touch), this intimate epic charts the various fortunes, over a day or so, of various individuals living in the San Fernando Valley - including the dying Earl (Robards), his young wife Linda (Moore), and his nurse Phil (Hoffman); Frank Mackey (Cruise), prophet of machismo; and numerous people associated, past or present, with a TV quiz show - whose paths cross by design, destiny, chance or coincidence. Insofar as the film is about 'story', little happens save that Anderson initially conceals information, and then slowly scatters snippets so that we can piece the jigsaw together. For all the humour, it's a dark portrait of loss, lovelessness and fear of failure in contemporary America, and not a film that trades in understatement. As the lost souls make their way towards - what? - redemption? - a deus ex machina plot development occurs, as contrived, ludicrous, bold and grandly imaginative as any Biblical flood or plague.