Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Heather Graham, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds
Though it was not, as many think, Paul Thomas Anderson's debut film (that's the underseen, and rather good, Hard Eight) Boogie Nights is still a film that heralded the arrival of the most promising young American director (26 when he shot this picture) since Quentin Tarantino. It wasn't massive at the box office, most people discovered it on video, but it netted three academy award nominations, including a first nod (as Best Supporting Actress) for Julianne Moore.
The story of Boogie Nights is a familiar rise and fall one, the difference being that this time it is set in the thriving porn industry in California in the 70's and 80's. When the film begins porn was in its heyday, with stars like John Holmes and films like Deep Throat crossing over to the mainstream. We don't really see that side of things, the people Boogie Nights introduces us to are lower down the ladder, at least until Eddie makes an impression.
It is to Paul Thomas Anderson's credit that, even with such a huge cast, he gives each of the characters proper attention and a complex, compelling personality.
This is perhaps best shown in his writing of Julianne Moore's character "Amber Waves" (I use quotation marks because that is her professional name, her real name is Maggie). She's a truly complex individual; on the one hand a prolific pornstar, hopelessly addicted to cocaine, on the other a devoted mother, both to her estranged son and to the extended family she works with. It is the motherly side of Amber that provides Moore her best moments in the film; a genuinely upsetting moment when she stands alone crying after losing the right to see her son, and telling "Rollergirl" that she will be her mother as they both do vast amounts of coke.
Moore is wonderful in the part, it remains her best performance (Though the recent Far From Heaven comes close). You never feel that you are watching an actor giving a performance, just a person living her life.
The rest of the cast excel as well. Mark Wahlberg is better than he's been before or since, hitting all the right notes as Eddie, particularly in the first half of the movie as his star rises in the industry.
John C Reilly is a gifted character actor (and actually looks a little like real pornstar Ron Jeremy) and puts in a funny turn as Dirks second banana "Reed Rothchild". The characters that Dirk and Reed play in their films, apparently parodies of John Holmes films, are screamingly funny and a real highlight, along with the documentary Amber makes about Dirk, of the first half of the film.
Heather Graham is hardly renowned for her range or even her acting ability but as "Rollergirl" she impresses. The rest of the ensemble cast are, without exception, brilliant. I think Paul Thomas Anderson may be the best actors director working today.
Boogie Nights is far more fun in its first half, after Eddie leaves the porn industry the film takes on a different tone, becoming incredibly dark as we enter the 1980's, fortunately it never stops being entertaining and some stunning set pieces (not least Alfred Molina's turn as the unhinged Rahad Jackson) come up in the latter half of the film.
I've made much of how good Anderson's script but he is not a Kevin Smith type figure; a writer who happens to direct his own work. Anderson is, potentially, the greatest technical and stylistic American director since Martin Scorsese. This is chiefly shown by two early shots.
The first shot in the film is a two and a half minute steadicam tour of a disco that introduces us to all the main character, this is an impressive way for Anderson to start his film but he tops himself fast with a brilliant shot at a pool party which goes round the pool, into the water and back out again.
Some have denigrated Boogie Nights simply for its subject matter but the film is deceptive, its really more about family than it is pornography and to see it just as a film about porn is to do it a great disservice.
I would urge anyone over 18 to discover this complex, brilliant piece of cinema (and PLEASE do so in its proper widescreen version, Anderson is a great visualist and this movie loses a vast amount in the pan and scan process) and Anderson's even better follow up; Magnolia.
5 stars out of 5