Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, John C Reilly, Don Cheadle, William H Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Thomas Jane, Luis Guzman, Ricky Jay, Nina Hartley, Robert Ridgely, Joanna Gleason, Nicole Ari Parker, Alfred Molina, Philip Baker Hall
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Plot: In the 70’s, the porn industry is booming, and director Jack Horner (Reynolds) is looking for the next big thing. He finds it in dimwitted Dirk Diggler (Wahlberg), who has a big thing himself. The film chronicles Dirk’s rise to fame in the industry, and subsequent fall during the 80’s.
What Works: I know I’m 20 years late to the party, but this really was a terrific film. It’s firing on all cylinders for me. I thought the acting was great. Even Wahlberg. who was just starting out, was convincing as Dirk. Julianne Moore is, of course, tremendous. All of her scenes worked for me. I loved Burt Reynolds, who was expertly cast in his role. Heather Graham has a great scene near the end that reminds us she’s more than a pretty face. Don Cheadle has a few great scenes where he stands out. I could go on and on, but Anderson really does give each actor a moment, which is entirely impressive when you have a film whose ensemble runs this deep. Even the actors in smaller roles, like Robert Ridgely, have a moment where their character shines. Now, here’s where I’m about to piss some people off. Having finally seen Boogie Nights, I can honestly say this is Paul Thomas Anderson’s best work. Having seen all of his films now except Hard Eight, Boogie Nights beats all his later films. What makes it so great? First, the balance of the supporting cast. Like I said before, he manages to give them all a moment in the sun. The pacing in this film is excellent, which is astounding considering how long this film is. Anderson loves to direct long movies, and I can’t say that Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, and The Master didn’t all have pacing issues. They all slowed down in parts, and you felt their runtime. I honestly never felt the runtime of Boogie Nights. It was like Wolf Of Wall Street for me, where somehow the director managed to keep the energy going the whole time, and made every scene feel important. I also applaud him for being able to expertly handle a dramatic shift in tone between the first half and second half of the film. We go from happy to sad, and it feels necessary, like that was always the projected path for the film. These characters couldn’t go on forever at the top of their game, right? The film is also well-shot. There aren’t any sweeping exterior shots showing us the landscape of California, but there are many really great rotating shots, and he had the challenge of filming porn scenes but maintaining an R rating. I’ve always considered Paul Thomas Anderson an overrated director, but this changed my mind. He’s a director that just needs to find his way back. In many ways, I now appreciate Inherent Vice a little more, because I can see the connections between that and this, and it now feels like an attempt to return to form. Hopefully his next film is a true show of his talent, like Boogie Nights is, coupled with the lessons he’s learned over the last 20 years.
What Doesn’t Work: It’s a small thing, and there’s spoilers here, but the scene where Dirk is picked up by the redneck guy in the pickup truck, who then pays to watch him jack off? When his friends roll up and beat up Dirk, I was thinking… so they were cool with their friend being in the truck for that long watching Dirk jack off? Did they really need to wait that long to jump Dirk for being a “faggot”? It was a little bit of a cheap build to nothing for me. The reason I thought that scene was going on for so long was, I assumed police would come and arrest Dirk for prostitution. Then his friends come instead, and I’m wondering how their buddy convinced his friends to let him sit there for five minutes and watch some dude jerk off. Again, it’s a small thing, but that one scene just didn’t work for me.
Final Word: I’m so glad I finally saw Boogie Nights. I wasn’t old enough when it first came out, and I’m disappointed in myself that it took me this long to finally see it. It’s a great film.
Final Grade: A