1977, San Fernando Valley. Working at a night club, well-endowed high school drop-out Eddie Adams (Wahlberg) is discovered by idealistic porn filmmaker Jack Horner (Reynolds). Becoming Dirk Diggler, he swiftly rises to become the most successful star in the industry, lapping up the parties and lifestyle in the process. After the turn of the decade though, Dirk and his new family fall from grace…
Understandably hailed as the porn version of Goodfellas, Boogie Nights is a stylish, decade-spanning ensemble piece which announced filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson as a significant cinematic voice. Only his second feature after the criminally-underseen Vegas thriller Hard Eight (or, as it was originally titled, Sydney), Anderson utilises the seedy industry as a microcosm with which to employ his usual themes (family, loneliness, regret, redemption), but what really stands out is the dazzling style. While there are clear shades of Robert Altman (see the climactic intercutting) and Quentin Tarantino (one of Andersons’s contemporaries), it’s the influence of Martin Scorsese which is most apparent here.
Particularly, as noted, his mob classic and the comparably-stylish camerawork. While its own beast, Boogie Nights is notably similar in style and feel, with Anderson showcasing a number of attention-grabbing camera moves in order to draw us into this world (such as the swooping long-shot which floats in and around the opening night club, or the continuous take at poolside which plunges under water with our characters). Like Marty, Anderson also has a knack for employing an eclectic soundtrack to imbue his scenes with memorable meaning (such as Andrew Gold’s lonely boy when Julianne Moore is drugging out, or The Commodores’ Machine Gun when Marky Mark is funking out).
In truth, it sags slightly in places during the 156-minute running time, but Anderson’s epic really captures the feel of changing times; with the lively and party-peppered good times of the seventies eventually giving way to the bleak, downward spiral hangover of the early eighties. Plus, the cast is terrific throughout, led by Mark Wahlberg in what is still one of his best performances. Elsewhere, it’s hard to pick a best supporting role, with Moore, Burt Reynolds, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Thomas Jane and John C. Reilly all outstanding. Not all the characters are satisfyingly fleshed out (see Heather Graham and Don Cheadle), but you can’t fault Anderson’s ambition.
Understandably hailed as the porn version of Goodfellas, Boogie Nights is a stylish, decade-spanning ensemble piece which announced filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson as a significant cinematic voice.