I’ve often heard Boogie Nights described as a film about the 70’s adult film industry. While this may be true on the most basic level, it’s about much more than that. Sharing a similar technique that he later employed in Magnolia, director Paul Thomas Anderson tells an epic-sized story by presenting several smaller-scale stories integrated together. Yes, the film is set in the world of pornography, but that is not what it is about. It is about a specific group of people. They may work in the seedy underbelly of the San Fernando Valley, but Boogie Nights is the story of their lives and not their occupations.
That doesn’t mean that the film isn’t graphic. While there may not necessarily be a lot of sex, the sequences that are there tend to be relatively pornographic themselves. By the very nature of the subject matter, the film has an undercurrent of sexuality that can be very uncomfortable. While this is a very powerful film, it is understandably not for everybody.
Set during the transition from the seventies to the eighties, Anderson frames the film around Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg). Beginning the film as a dishwasher, Adams finds his way into the porn business, eventually becoming porn superstar Dirk Diggler. Wahlberg is amazing in the role, transitioning from the enthusiastic young newcomer to the desperate loser desperate to reclaim his glory days. There have been many films that have chronicled an individual’s rise to stardom and eventual descent into despair. What makes this film unique (beyond the time period and setting) is the cast of characters surrounding the lead.
Featuring a large percentage of the cast from Magnolia (filmed two years after Boogie Nights), there are no “filler” characters. Overseeing this group is director Jack Horner, played by Burt Reynolds, who received an Oscar nomination for his performance. Serving as a sort-of father figure to Adams, the audience slowly begins to notice the darkness beneath his character. Reynolds creates a subtly nuanced character, one that is easy to identify with at first but becomes more and more unsettling as the film progresses. There are other great performances from John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, and on an on.
But another true standout is Julianne Moore. If Reynolds is the film’s father figure, she is definitely the mother figure. As porn star Amber Waves, this is taken to a literal extreme at one point when a character asks if she can start calling her mom, and she agrees. It’s a complex performance, and she definitely earned the Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress that she received that year.
It’s hard to believe that this was only Anderson’s second film. It feels like the work of a master filmmaker, one who has been doing this for years. Going beyond props, lighting and music, he captures the essence of the seventies and eighties in a remarkable way. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how he accomplished this, but this world feels like reality and not recreation.
For such an accomplished film, I was expecting a greater amount of bonus features. The bulk of the extras are the deleted scenes. As the film already runs long at 2 hours and 35 minutes, these scenes feel extraneous. Many of them are simply padding, filling out scenes that are already in the film. The deleted sequences that feature John C. Reilly are isolated from the rest and put in a separate feature entitled “The John C. Reilly files.” These could have just easily fit in with the other deleted scenes, and were probably separated to create the illusion that there are more extras on the disc than are actually included. Rounding out the set is the trailer and a music video featuring the cast of the film.
While I personally prefer Anderson’s work in Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, I am still in awe over the filmmaking prowess on display in this film. I mentioned above that Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds received Oscar nominations for their roles, but Anderson also received a nomination for Best Screenplay. He is a fantastic writer, and has a true mastery of creating characters and writing dialogue.
As I said above, this film goes to some really dark places. But there are moments of joy mixed in. The action may take place in an uncomfortable setting, but none of the characters in the film are ashamed. They take pride in what they do, and are just living their lives. And this is what I liked about the film. Getting to see complex characters living their lives. I don’t know if I’d be comfortable watching this again anytime soon, but I can definitely appreciate what I saw. This is not a movie about the 70’s adult film industry. It’s a movie about hope, despair, love, hate, etc. It’s a powerful movie, and one definitely worth seeing.