Over the past decade or so, Paul Thomas Anderson has created quite a stir in the movie world. In Magnolia, he created a world of coincidence, lost hopes, and dreams, in Punch-Drunk Love he showed a man full of rage and sorrow, in There Will Be Blood he depicted the worst greed can bring, and in The Master he explored cult religions. He is without a doubt one of the best directors working today, perhaps the best, and undoubtedly will go down as a cinema legend. Anderson’s second movie, Boogie Nights, was his breakout film and his most popular movie. It’s as cool and slick as the era it depicts: the 70s.
Boogie Nights starts off in 1977 in San Fernando Valley. The adult filmmaking business is booming there, and veteran adult filmmaker Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) dominates the local industry like Vito Corleone. He discovers at a local nightclub a dishwasher named Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), who is rumored to have a “special gift” and Jack believes that he can make Eddie the next big thing in the business. Jack announces that he wants to make a movie so good the audience will stay in the theater even after they finished doing what they came for and thinks Eddie can help him make such a picture. Soon, Eddie leaves his home and overbearing parents to join Jack and becomes the biggest actor in the adult film business, renaming himself Dirk Diggler.
While Boogie Nights focus primarily on Dirk, there are other important characters as well. There’s Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), an adult film star who desperately wants to see her child again. There’s Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), who quickly becomes friends with Dirk and joins him in his moviea. There’s Rollergirl (Heather Graham), an adult film star who never takes off her skates. There’s Little Bill Thompson (William H. Macy), Jack’s assistant director whose wife constantly cheats on him… publicly (in one of the film’s funniest scenes, Bill discovers his wife and another man with a crowd of people surrounding them). There’s Scotty (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the boom guy in Jack’s films who secretly has a crush on Dirk. There’s Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), an actor in Jack’s films who dreams of one day opening a stereo business. And there’s Maurice Rodriguez (Luis Guzmán), a nightclub owner who wants to enter the adult film business.
Boogie Nights juggles many characters, similarly to Anderson’s next feature Magnolia, and does so very skillfully. While each character doesn’t have an individual story like Magnolia, they all have hopes and dreams and the story often diverts from Dirk’s coming of the age story.
From my plot description, Boogie Nights may sound sophomoric and puerile and no better than its subject but that would be missing the point. Boogie Nights is a mature picture made by a mature director. It never resorts to crudeness and even limits the nudity to a certain extent. The adult film industry merely provides a background for the characters in the film, whose relationships and struggles are the real star of the film. The movie is very funny in a Tarantinoeque manner, full of quotable dialogue and violence.
Boogie Nights is almost like a collaborative effort between Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese, both two directors Anderson greatly respects. Boogie Nights‘ large ensemble reflects those Altman created in films like Short Cuts and The Player. And like Martin Scorsese, Anderson directs the movie with such flare and skill it’s hard to believe he was only 26. Boogie Nights closely resembles GoodFellas as both are about the rise and fall of men in a growing business (in GoodFellas the mafia), and also has the same tone. By the 1980s, Dirk’s ego is so large he believes himself to be the king of the adult film industry, which is flailing due to the coming of VHS tapes. During drug scenes, Anderson films the movie in a completely different style just like Scorsese did, using quicker cuts and fast paced shots. Anderson also interrupts scenes of humor with violence. Plus both have great soundtracks that each take songs from their respective time periods.
But I was also hugely impressed with the acting in the film. Anderson also gets great performance out of actors like Daniel Day-Lewis, Tom Cruise, Joaquin Phoenix, and even Adam Sandler. Here everyone is impressive in their role. I’ve never been a fan of Wahlberg but he perfectly plays Dirk. The role was originally considered for Leonardo DiCaprio, but Anderson picked the right choice with Wahlberg. Burt Reynolds is also in top-form as Jack Horner in an Oscar nominated performance (which he should have won for). Julianne Moore also impresses as Amber, playing the character with spunk and emotion, and the rest of the cast is great from John C. Reilly to Philip Seymour Hoffman.
While I would argue Magnolia remains Anderson’s crown jewel and that his later films are more refined, Boogie Nights is nothing short of great. Violent, shocking, and darkly hilarious, Boogie Nights is a cultural touchstone not to be missed.