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Boogie Nights

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Boogie Nights

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated: R
RunTime: 152 Minutes
Release Date: October 1997
Genres: Drama, Music

*Also starring: Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, Alfred Molina, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Robert Ridgely, Melora Walters, Luis Guzman

Review by MrBrown
4 stars out of 4

Aside from a fleeting glimpse of a sign reading "2nd Annual Adult Film Awards," the trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights does not offer a single clue of its porn-industry setting. This might seem misleading, but in skirting the provocative issue, the prudish preview ironically gives a more accurate sketch of what this fascinating, decade-spanning drama is truly about.

The adult film industry is front and center as the film opens in the San Fernando Valley in 1977. Anderson introduces the major players GoodFellas-style with a single shot winding through a crowded discotheque: producer/director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds); stars Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), and Rollergirl (Heather Graham); production manager Little Bill (William H. Macy); and 17-year-old waiter Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), who catches the attention of Jack. Jack sees superstar potential in the fresh-faced Eddie, and he is right--propelled by his large natural endowment and its ability to perform on camera, Eddie becomes an overnight porn sensation under the name of Dirk Diggler, sweeping the Adult Film Awards every year and creating a popular franchise character in secret agent Brock Landers.

Tragic gunshots ring in the 1980s, and at this point Anderson uncovers Boogie Nights's true nature. As Dirk's fortunes take a slide and advent of video changes the adult entertainment industry forever, the film reveals itself as not a mere portrait of the porn business but above all else a study of the people involved, the hopes and dreams within this makeshift family. For some, porn is just a means to a greater end: Buck dreams of opening up his own stereo shop; Reed would rather be a full-time magician. But a lot of the time, involvement in the business proves to be an insurmountable and humbling obstacle, a large skeleton in the closets of all involved. While the porno setting hooks the viewer and remains as a backdrop thoroughout, but it is the characters that carry the audience through.

Ironically, though, the focal character is one of the least interesting. Eddie/Dirk starts off as an ambitious, naive kid and becomes an ambitious, naive, and egotistical man. Wahlberg, who gives a very competent performance, conveys the naivete and eventual arrogance well, but he needs to work on his vulnerability; above all else, Eddie/Dirk is portrayed as a dreamer, but I could not connect with the distant Wahlberg. More engaging emotionally and in every other way are Moore's Amber, the porn vet who yearns to be a mother to her absent son; Cheadle's Buck, who prides himself on being a real actor; and Graham's Rollergirl, a parentless high-school dropout whose freewheeling ways hide deep anger and pain. Reynolds should be on his way to a real comeback with his confident, relaxed work as Jack, the idealistic porn auteur who strives for some legitimacy.

Most of all, Boogie Nights is a showcase for 26-year-old writer-director-producer Anderson, who proves himself a major talent to watch with this, his second feature (following the acclaimed Reno underworld saga Hard Eight). Not only does he effortlessly juggle a wide canvas of characters and storylines, coax fine performances from his entire cast, and employ some bravura camera work, he shows an amazing eye for detail. The tacky '70s hairstyles, costumes, and dance moves are so dead-on as to be almost painful to watch. Also hilarious are the porn sequences; the wafer-thin premises, lame dialogue, flaccid line readings, cheap production values, suggestive character names--all of the most minute details are paid attention to. Adding even more authenticity is the great soundtrack filled with numerous '70s and '80s standards (though, curiously, the title tune is nowhere to be heard). Anderson's wry sense of humor shows through in the most subtle of ways; title cards stating dates are frequently posted onscreen, the last of which drolly reads "one last thing (long way down)".

Boogie Nights rounds out its swift 152-minute running time with a scene that is simple and quiet, yet deceptively so. With the mere sight and sound of one character talking to himself, Anderson sums up the joy and optimism of dreamers everywhere, as well as the sadness that come with the ultimate awareness of one's limits. "You're a star," goes the film's final line. Truer words cannot be spoken about Paul Thomas Anderson.

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