Director Paul Thomas Anderson has created a sweeping saga of an unlikely subject: the adult film industry. Technically brilliant, and with good acting, Boogie nights is a very good, but not great, film.
The film follows the meteoric rise and fall of porn star Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), aka Dirk Diggler. He is discovered in the late 1970s by director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), who discovers him working in a nightclub. Jack has a knack for spotting upcoming talents, and Eddie has been endowed with a rather large one.
Soon Eddie (now Dirk) is completely immersed in the world of adult films. He befriends other actors in the profession: Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) an ex-housewife who, missing her child, protectively acts as a surrogate mother to the others. Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), Dirk’s best friend, who doesn’t mind riding his coattails. Rollergirl (Heather Graham), a high school dropout with an obsessive fondness for her roller skates. Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), a part time hi-fi salesman who can’t bear to part with his cowboy image. Little Bill (William H. Macy), an assistant to Jack Horner who is more notable for his wife’s (Nina Hartley) public infidelities. And many others… Boogie Nights doesn’t skimp on the characters.
Nearly everyone has his/her own subplot, but the main story follows Dirk as he quickly becomes adult film’s hottest star. However, with the advent of video, a great change is on the horizon for the porno market. Much to Jack Horner’s dismay, the target audience doesn’t really care for quality…only quantity. At the close of the decade, it is obvious there is an impending shakeup on the horizon.
The first thing to hit you as you watch Boogie Nights is the impressive camerawork. The sweeping tracking shots and swift editing draw you into the story. And, although a plethora of subplots abound, the film keeps track of them all.
Now, that doesn’t imply that the rest of the movie is bad. (It’s not the “nice personality” syndrome.) On the contrary, the acting is very good throughout, and the various stories are interesting. It’s just that the technical brilliance of the film shines extra bright.
Mark Walhberg is a capable actor, handling the demands of his role here, but not adding much else. The supporting cast, however, does an excellent job. They are only helped by the script, which delivers heaping spoonfuls of character-building situations.
Boogie Nights’ faults are twofold. The firs lies in its somewhat mundane central plot. The “rising star” story has been told countless times, and aside from setting it in the porn industry, it’s not too fresh here. Its second problem is its length. Part of this stems from nearly every character in the film having a personal subplot. However, there is excess fat elsewhere that could be trimmed. For example, Dirk’s encounter with a drug dealer late in the film is an exciting and well done, but unnecessary addition to his story. In fact, it almost seems as if it belongs in another story altogether.
After watching Boogie Nights, it is easy to draw favorable comparisons to earlier films (for example: Goodfellas, Nashville, Pulp Fiction, Ed Wood, etc.) However, you never get the feeling that Boogie Nights has a flavor all its own. And, although it is a good film, it doesn’t seem that, several years down the line, anyone will compare a new film with Boogie Nights.