At the tail end of the 70s, times were a-changin’ for many folks, including those involved in the production of adult films. Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is bussing tables in a nightclub, regularly frequented by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), his cast and crew. Adams, who later will become known as Dirk Diggler, is somewhat gifted in a manner that would be beneficial in adult cinema, so he soon finds himself working in Jack’s pictures. This film chronicles the highs and lows of working in such an industry, not just for Dirk, but Jack, his leading lady Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), other cast members Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), Becky Barnett (Nicole Ari Parker) and Rollergirl (Heather Graham) and their crew, including Little Bill (William H. Macy) and Scotty J. (Philip Seymour Hoffman).It’s Paul Thomas Anderson month over at French Toast Sunday (P. T. AnderJune), plus Boogie Nights won the Movie of the Month poll over at the Lamb, so this is a perfect opportunity for me to cross Boogie Nights off The List. Anderson is one of the directors I credit with getting me into liking films to begin with, predominantly because of Magnolia, which was one the first films I felt that I truly appreciated, at a similar time to when I discovered The Big Lebowski and Reservoir Dogs, so he’s on a shortlist with Tarantino and the Coens in my book. Boogie Nights is a film I’ve now seen for only the second time, and that’s a problem I need to rectify, because this movie is all kinds of awesome.I mentioned in the opening blurb the many different characters in this film, and the fully stacked cast that fills out said characters. Looking back, now that some of these lesser-known actors have gone on to have stellar careers, that cast is beyond impressive. And I didn’t even mention the likes of Ricky Jay, Thomas Jane, Philip Baker Hall, Luis Guzman and Alfred Molina, all of whom have smaller but vital – and for most cases unforgettable – roles within the film. There’s such a lot going on, you could argue there’s about 10 different films in here, all intertwined, but each could be separated to form its own standalone film. Take, for example, Don Cheadle’s character, Buck. We never actually see him at work as an actor in the porn films (he is not a porn star, he is an actor, a disillusion he resolutely clings to). To Buck, adult filmography is simply a job, a means to make money that can be used to set up his own business later in life. Buck is a fully rounded character who goes through many trials throughout the film – he gets fired from his day job in a stereo store for playing country music, and he can’t seem to sort out his look, and he could very easily be the lead in his own film, but here he’s almost a second tier character. The film is full of such richness; there’s almost too much going on! The fact that it never becomes overwhelming, exhausting or convoluted is a tribute to Anderson’s direction, masterfully handling the multiple strands with what appears to be ease.Speaking of the direction, one of the elements of Anderson’s work that has always drawn me to his films is his use of long takes and tracking shots. Here he uses at least four of considerable length, one of which boggles my mind because IT GOES UNDERWATER and then COMES BACK OUT AGAIN. Mental. I love tracking shots, if only for the sheer amount of skill and effort that must be undertaken in order for them to be pulled off, so to use so many in one film is staggering. There’s one in particular that occurs at exactly halfway through the film, which follows William H. Macy’s Little Bill as he walks around a house at a New Year’s Eve party. It’s a relatively straightforward shot, just following him around as he passes and talks to multiple party guests, but it’s brilliantly pulled off, and the pay-off to the shot is tremendous.It’s pretty much a perfect movie in my opinion. As I said, I can’t really fault it in any way, other than perhaps there is a little too much sex and nudity for my liking, but that’s a case of personal taste and prudishness than anything else, and considering this is a film about pornography, there’s not really any way it could be made without showing as much as they do. There’s more than enough to make up for the abundance of flesh on display however, such as the one-upping machismo posturing battle between Eddie and Reed, which soon develops into a full on bromance between Wahlberg and Reilly, who are both absolutely amazing in this film, particularly Reilly, who shows he is both a great actor and hilarious comedian, with spot-on timing and facial gurning throughout. Elsewhere the film takes some pretty dark turns, but it never becomes difficult to watch, and is always impressive no matter what is happening.In short, there’s a great deal here to make the film worth your time. It’s certainly not for everyone – my girlfriend was less than impressed, as it’s really not her kind of film – but for movie fans this is a must watch, many times over.
Choose film 9/10
Great review, but a bit disappointed you didn’t give it the full 10. Its been way too long since I’ve watched it, though. Like you, I need to watch it more often. Oh, lol at saying a movie about porn has too much nudity. At least you recognize that in this case it was a necessity.
Thanks Wendell. I couldn’t give it the full 10 because it isn’t quite up there to me with some other stone-cold-classic movies. I reserve the 10/10 for something I’ll happily keep on coming back to again and again.
The best part about this film is that if you pick any actor in it, this would be listed in his or her top-5 performances. I always forget how good this film is until I watch it again, which I should probably do soon.
I have to agree with you there Steve, I can’t think of a single actor in here who has five other films I’d put above this movie, and considering how many great actors there are here that’s definitely saying something. The only one who might come close is Philip Seymour Hoffman, with The Big Lebowski, Magnolia and Almost Famous. He’s got another 3 films that I probably prefer to this, but I acknowledge as being “lesser” movies – Mission Impossible 3, The Boat That Rocked and, um, Twister.
I’ll give you Hoffman, and I’ll suggest The Master, Moneyball, and Capote as three you’ve missed. I haven’t seen The Savages or Synechdoche New York, but they might make it, too.
That said, I really like Hoffman in Boogie Nights.
An infernal machine that clicks and whirls perfectly at every point and continues to drag you into the story, even as it gets seedier and darker. The sequences are hypnotic and I think it is the best film Paul Thomas Anderson has made.
That’s a pretty big claim there Richard. I have to prefer Magnolia, although it’s been a few years since I matched that one. Also, I remember loving There Will Be Blood in the cinema, but haven’t gone back to that either. It’s definitely a top 3 film (I love bits of Punch Drunk Love, haven’t yet seen The Master or Hard Eight).
Good review Jay. This movie never gets old. No matter how many times I watch it, there’s always ways it finds to surprise me.
Cheers Dan. I think I’d like it even more if I watched it a few more times. Twice is nowhere near enough.
Great review buddy. Love that you’re such a fan of tracking shots, especially the excellent ones in this movie. PTA always insists that you should only use a tracking shot if you have something specific to say, and the ones he uses in this movie definitely have something to say, and then some. I think my favorite is the opening one, but they’re all great.
Thanks Alex. I think the opening tracking shot could be the most technically impressive, what with the initial crane shot going inside the nightclub. PTA has a real knack for telling a story with some amazing shot styles.