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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 Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

Don't be put off by the title: "Boogie Nights" is one of the most vivid, tantalizing and unconventional American films of the past few years. It is intense, dazzling filmmaking by 26-year-old director Paul Thomas Anderson ("Hard Eight") and it is guaranteed to give him a major boost in the world of film and in his career. Yes, folks, he's that good.

"Boogie Nights" is an epic tale of the porno industry in the 1970's and early 1980's, and how it affected the lives of the actors, directors and everyone else involved in the making and production of what is now a billion dollar industry. Burt Reynolds, in what may be his finest role since Deliverance, is surprisingly credible and understated as a porn director named Jack Horner who yearns to make this industry respectable. One night at a disco, he discovers a potentially hot star in the form of a waiter, Eddie Adams (the extraordinary Mark Wahlberg). Jack talks to Eddie and tries to entice him into becoming one of his actors. Eddie is reluctant but decides it may not be such a bad idea.

The naive Eddie is nineteen years old and lives at home with his domineering parents who pressure him into going to school. Every night he practices some kung-fu moves in front of his mirror and his Bruce Lee and Cheryl Tiegs posters - Eddie aspires to be one of them. He gets the chance with Jack, and shortly becomes an overnight success. He becomes Dirk Diggler, the biggest porn star in the business. "That's a catchy name," says Jack.

After a while, Eddie moves into Jack's home and becomes part of his unusual "family," which includes Jack's leading lady star Amber Waves (the always great Julianne Moore) who will gradually become Eddie's maternal co-star, and an energetic blonde named Rollergirl (Heather Graham - an actress who keeps you on the edge) who will remove all her clothing for a sex scene except for her roller skates. The house becomes a haven for excess in the numerous drug parties and the sexual dalliances in the bedrooms. Eddie is immersed in this world and loves all of the excess and addictions, particularly the addiction to cocaine that leads to his downfall. This is the heavenly dream of the 1970's party scene - to indulge in drugs and sex forever.

The world of porn filmmaking is one aspect that writer-director Anderson does not fully explore. He shows us only glimpses, such as the scenes where Eddie does his first sex scene with Amber demonstrating how the crew maintains their composure while the sex gets hot and heavy. Amber even tells Eddie to come inside her thereby ruining the close-up come shot in a hysterically funny scene. What Anderson is really interested in is the effect porn has on the crew members and the actors: there's a credible section involving one crew member (William H. Macy) who sees his wife, a porn star, continually having sex with other men at parties or on the street in plain view. She has become addicted to sex, but he has not because he doesn't allow it to become a part of his life.

Eddie's rise and fall and rise again are the most startling chain of events in the movie - he becomes so heavily addicted to cocaine that he is fired by Jack on the set due to his temper tantrums. Eddie begins to lead a life of drug deals, homosexual encounters in parking lots, and finally a nearly fatal encounter with a rich drug addict where firecrackers are exploding and the song "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield plays in the background while he and his pals are getting ready to rob the guy. It's a no-win situation and it shows that if sex is no longer an addiction for Eddie, then the gratification pleasure of his drugs is.

"Boogie Nights" has a similar structure to Scorsese's "GoodFellas" and "Casino" in the stylistic camerawork and editing, and the two-act structure where we see the eventual rise leading to the downward abyss where nothing is left except...more excess. The transition from the decadent 70's of promiscuity, endless blissful fun and halter tops to the nastier, more violent era of the 80's, where all that bliss and decadence peter out (Jack has to resort to making porno on video because it is cheaper), is handled flawlessly by the deftly written screenplay and the audacious, engaging narrative structure. Anderson's point is that those who survive in the 80's, including Eddie, will still succumb to their initial addictions because that is all they have.

"Boogie Nights" is a garish, violent, unsentimental, alternately funny, humanistic and intricately layered film that will stay with you. It has no particularly likable characters, easy resolutions or sentimental situations. What it does brilliantly, though, is to make us empathize with the characters and with the crucial decisions and surprising events that take place in their lives, and how they learn to cope with their emotions and move on. "Boogie Nights" is about as pure a cinematic treat as you're likely to get.

Copyright 1997 Jerry Saravia

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