Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, Punch Drunk Love) Boogie Nights is a story of talent, fame, success and excess set in and around the San Fernando Valley during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The script focuses on the rise and fall of Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) a young porn star known for his physical similarities to Michael Fassbender. Diggler is spotted while working at a nightclub by famed porn Director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and soon becomes a star of the adult entertainment world. With the help of a select crew and actors, Horner attempts to go beyond making pornography and tries to create movies which people will stay to watch when they’ve ‘completed the task in hand’. With the aid of his adept crew (William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman) and on screen talent (Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle) Horner’s films become actual movies and the stars get rich.
This is the forth of Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s six feature films I’ve seen and unsurprisingly it is excellent. Anderson creates a wonderfully vivid and detailed world which changes gradually with the story. The characters are well written and the soundtrack is perfectly chosen. Anderson’s films have a tendency to attract awards recognition and even this story of sex, drugs and moustaches picked up three Oscar nominations including nods for Anderson (screenplay) as well as Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds. In fact Anderson’s six films have thus far picked up seven acting nominations at the Oscars. Here the acting is superb from the top to the bottom of the cast.
I never imagined a film about the 1970s porn industry could be so good. The story is a classic tale of the rise and the fall and in both cases the curves are steep. Still just a few years since turning from rap to acting, Mark Wahlberg is well cast and performs remarkably well. I’ve always felt that Wahlberg is the sort of actor who makes it obvious if he is enjoying a role. In the likes of The Departed and The Fighter you can almost see behind his eyes and can tell that he believes what he is doing is worthwhile. I got the same feeling here. He puts everything into the role and comes out shining. The entire ensemble cast is excellent though from the secondary character actors William H. Macy and Phillip Seymour Hoffman to the stars Julianne Moore and John C. Reilly. The whole cast appears to be on the same page and treats the sexual content as though it is any other scene. I was a little shocked to see some of the actors partaking in the more sexual scenes (Heather Graham less so) but they all handled it well and judged the fake poor acting that was required skilfully. It was Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds that were nominated for Oscars but for me their performances were no better that the likes of John C. Reilly, Heather Graham or Mark Wahlberg.
Anderson’s movies create worlds which are always rich and detailed and this is certainly the case in Boogie Nights. I can’t think of a better representation of the late 1970s and early 80s in any film not from that period itself. From the disco club and clothing to the wood panel interior walls and garish ornaments to the tracksuits and Miami Vice style suits of the later scenes the film gets its design and set dressing inch perfect. The hair, makeup and wardrobe are all great too. Boogie Nights is an example of when attention to detail is done right and it makes all the difference to the story. The soundtrack is also spot on and shifts from disco through a touch of soul and on to early 80s soft rock featuring the likes of Marvin Gaye, Three Dog Players, The Commodores, Jethro Tull, ELO and The Beach Boys. As well as fitting well in the film the soundtrack would also make a great album on its own. Early on I didn’t enjoy the score but it grew on me as the film progressed and by the end it matched the cinematography in creating a real sense of dread as things started going sour for the characters.
As well as weaving drama and suspense into the script there is also plenty of comedy and violence. At times I found the script incredibly witty but also innocently funny as the characters struggled in the world outside their little porn bubble. Desperation also turns to violence late on before scenes of redemption. At times I found the script a little too overly simplified in its direction, aims and goals despite it being quite complex on screen. Things tied together too neatly and the characters lack of interaction with the outside world lead to too many coincidences and reappearances. Even so the story is wonderfully written and told and I wholeheartedly agree with its Oscar nomination. The sex is handled in a fairly tasteful way and there isn’t as much nudity as one would expect given the subject matter. Scenes on set are well filmed and use clever cutting and camera angles to mask the risqué shots which would push the film over the 18 Certificate.
Boogie Nights is long at two and a half hours but it kept my attention pretty well throughout. The changes in mood and atmosphere are well handled and the downturn in characters fortunes creeps up on you quietly. It is very well designed and acted and although not my favourite Paul Thomas Anderson film it further supports my belief that he is one of the top film makers working in Hollywood today.