Anderson's Boogie Nights is an incredible film experience
Darkness. A little shimmer of light from the New Line Cinema credit. Then darkness again. Darkness, and more darkness. Suddenly, breaking the darkness and the silence is a huge neon sign sporting the title of the film: Boogie Nights. The 70s music destroys the peaceful silence when the audience finally shuts up. The neon sign is vibrant, wild, and very descriptive of the film we are about to see. Preparing for a good time, and not really knowing what to expect, I walked into the theater for a special engagement of the film. In fact, it was obvious most audience members didn't know what to expect. Overall, I feel that the film left its mark for life on every single audience member, in one way or another.
Boogie Nights is one of the best films of the year. Period. I have heard all the praising done by critics, but never had I expected this film. Opening with probably the best character-introducing scenes that I have ever seen in all my years of watching films, a smile came across my face which never left for the first hour of the film. The camera pans away from the neon sign and drifts across the street and into a local club. We follow the host of this club, Maurice T. Rodriguez (Luis Guzmán), as he seats a couple of people. This couple is Jack Horner and Amber Waves (Burt Reynolds and Julianne Moore). The camera never cuts throughout this entire sequence, following one person, and then landing on someone else to introduce us to. We follow Rollergirl (Heather Graham) and we finally meet Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg). This one sequence is so impressive that even I was marvelling the great camerawork done. I have never seen a scene like it before, and if I ever do, it will probably not be as well done as this one.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson has fully recreated the 70s decade in vivid and shocking detail. The colorful clothes and wild hairstyles are magnificently reproduced. But despite this, Boogie Nights is more of a character-driven drama. Deriving its plot from the hardcore porn films of the late 70s and early 80s, Nights creates an atmospheric setting in which the adult film actors rise and fall from stardom. The film centers around Eddie Adams, who changes his name to Dirk Diggler after venturing into the porn business. Adams is a busboy at the club in which the film begins. Jack Horner, a respected adult fimmaker (respected in the porn industry anyway), who spots Eddie in the club. Later, he asks Eddie if he would like to be a star in one of his films. "I got a feeling that behind those jeans is something wonderful just waiting to get out," remarks Horner. All of this happens within the first 15 minutes.
The rest of the film deals with many different characters, but focuses mainly on Dirk Diggler and Jack Horner. Amazingly, with all the characters, all of them are well developed making us care for them and their situations. Among them include Little Bill (William H. Macy, Fargo), Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), and the Colonel (Robert Ridgely). Of course, these are just a few of them. Many critics complained that the film didn't develop any of the characters completely. On the contrary, Boogie Nights does develop every single character, but what screenwriter Anderson does is cut out all the scenes which supposedly bring the characters out even more. Many of these scenes are fillers and unnecessary. Running at around 2 hours and 30 minutes, Boogie Nights establishes the characters, shoves them into the porn industry, and then yanks everything out from under them. At its most basic, this film is a simple "Rise and Fall" story. But what lies beneath this is a world of discovery and surprise. And beneath that is a world of love and hope.
More goes on in Boogie Nights than in most movies of this genre (whatever that may be). It has more subplots than Pulp Fiction and more characters than any film out this year. Many characters appear in other films, but Boogie Nights actually focuses on the happenings of all the different people. Little Bill is disturbed because his wife (porn star Nina Hartley) keeps committing adultery, and not being too shy about it. In one scene, she displays her sexual talent in the driveway, surrounded by on-lookers. When Little Bill asks her what she is doing, she says, "Shut up Bill. You're embarrassing me." Reed Rothchild becomes one of Dirk's best friends, and he also becomes his sidekick in some of the porn films. Buck Swope has an entire subplot devoted to him, beginning with him as a country-loving stereo salesman to a loving hubsand. Due to his activity in the porn industry, however, Swope is prejudiced against in his future business deals.
One of the most inventive and effective techniques used by Anderson is the change from the 70s to the 80s. During the 70s, the porn industry is done on film and shown in theaters. Jack Horner's dream is to make movies with actual stories to keep the audience in their seats once they have achieved their purpose for watching the film. The change to the 80s is done in one remarkable scene. During the New Year's Eve party, everybody is at Horner's house, and having a good time. Little Bill finds his wife with another man, and fet up with her adulterations, gets a gun from his car. He walks into the house, shoots his wife and her partner, walks into the living room with all the guests, and sticks the gun into his mouth. The transition from the disco, fun-loving 70s to the violent, disturbing 80s is very well executed. The movie shows both the good and bad of the porn industry. The behind the scenes view makes you wonder about the logistics of an actual shoot. For example do they hire cleaning services to clean up after a long day of shooting? Someone has to clean and maintain the on location shoots.
Despite what may sound like a sex-filled drama, Boogie Nights cleverly manages to show us very little. In fact, what it does show us is done in such a way that it is more humorous than erotic. In one scene, the film expires and they have to change reels. Horner tells Dirk and Amber to pause while they reload. The conversation between Dirk and Amber at this moment is truly hilarious, and also makes us realize that sexual pleasure is more like this ("Does it feel good?") than in other films with sex scenes. The nudity is more explicit, showing full frontal nudity of both sexes. However, Anderson wisely waits till the very last shot (considered to be the "money shot") to show the audience Dirk's possession. Previously, Anderson relies on actor's expressions to display the impressive size of Dirk Diggler. In one of my favorite scenes, The Colonel asks to see it, and gets an awkward grin on his face, replying, "Thank you." Never leaving the actor's face during this moment, we are left to imagine... until the last scene, of course.
The cast of Boogie Nights is top-notch and I sense a couple of Oscar nominations headed towards Burt Reynolds and perhaps even Mark Wahlberg. Burt Reynolds does an incredible job, giving one of his best performances ever. Instead of overacting (like he did in Striptease), he relies on the character's depth and conviction to propel the character forward. He remains low-key, but everything seems to revolve around him. Mark Wahlberg gives an outstanding performance, proving to be a better actor than a singer. His turn in Fear was quite frightening, but here he establishes a star-making performance. Julianne Moore gives one of the best performances in the film with one of the best characters. Moore's character becomes Dirk's surrogate mother when Moore regrets losing her son years ago. Heather Graham, as Rollergirl, is very good and charming. Refusing to take of her skates--which also aid in a very violent scene--Graham gives the character added depth with a sweet face and an innocent appearance (which, as we all see, is not entirely true). William H. Macy gives yet another good performance, providing a lot of humor himself. John C. Reilly gives a good performance in a slightly underdeveloped character. Don Cheadle is extremely effective as the stereo salesman, who provides one of the most complex characters in the film. Many other actors appear, and all are very good.
Boogie Nights is rated R (and a very hard R it is) for strong sex scenes with explicit dialogue, nudity, drug use, language, and violence. Nearly receiving an NC-17 rating, Anderson cut several scenes out. By doing so, he creates an "R rated depiction of XXX rated movies." The sex scenes are filmed not by showing the actual deed, but by showing the filmmaker's reactions. The language is very harsh, but it is to be expected. Be advised that this film is not for the weak of stomach or heart. In fact, several people walked out in disgust during the screening of the film. Perhaps they were offended by Anderson trying to put the porn industry into a good light, but they also missed the downfall of the porn stars, which gave the film added depth. Boogie Nights is a courageous and daring film which reminds us how fun watching a movie can really be.
**** out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie