Rated R, 147 min. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, Nicole Ari Parker, Robert Ridgely, Luiz Guzman, Alfred Molina, Thomas Jane.
From the second it begins, Boogie Nights seizes your senses and pulls you right in: no turning back, no time for debate, no regrets. You're in for the whole ride (and it's a long one at nearly two and a half hours), but you wouldn't dream of having it any other way. As the opening shot of Boogie Nights whooshes us into its disco world (much like the intoxicating long-take restaurant scene in GoodFellas), resistance proves futile. We hopelessly surrender to the dazzling neon and the propulsive music and the sight of Burt Reynolds giving the whole scene his thumbs up. Set during the waning years of the Seventies and the early Eighties, Boogie Nights focuses on a tight cluster of people who are involved in what is euphemistically called the adult film industry. It's a propitious moment for porn films: The late Seventies held out a small window of expectation that pornos were actually on the verge of becoming semi-respectable entertainment, a hope that was again shoved behind closed doors as the home video revolution of the early Eighties radically altered the industry's modus operandi. That's the cultural bedrock that grounds this period piece, a bedrock that includes wonderful attention to the period details of set design, costuming, music, and dialogue. Yet the movie is no socio-cultural abstract; Boogie Nights at heart is the story about a group of characters and the de facto family that emerges from their relationship. A stunning ensemble of actors is essential to creating this seamless world. As Jack Horner the porn director with artistic aspirations, Reynolds turns in the smoothest and most controlled performance of his career; Wahlberg, as the story's central figure, once again proves that he's more than just a billboard underwear jockey (and this story about the transformation of busboy Eddie Adams into self-invented porn superstar Dirk Diggler is only a jockstrap removed from the Marky Mark aka Mark Walhberg saga); Moore, Macy, Graham, Cheadle, Reilly, Hoffman, Ridgely, and Molina all should be singled out for their finely etched turns but to do so would come at the expense of so many others. Paul Thomas Anderson has managed to astonish the world with his sophomore effort. His debut film (the solid and stylish modern noir twister Hard Eight) gave little notice of the attention-grabber his follow-up would become. Anderson brings the right amount of humor, observational distance, and visual discretion to subject matter that most certainly would be instead easier to deal with in a salacious and voyeuristic manner. Anderson clearly invokes numerous films by such filmmakers as Scorsese and Altman as models for his multi-charactered subculture study. And it all works nearly perfectly for the first hour or so, but then some of the one-dimensionality of the characters and the schematic nature of the narrative become more evident. Each of the characters is given one or two bits of business that they carry with them from scene to scene, from year to year, but none of them ever expands much beyond these narrow parameters. A better model for Anderson might be something like Jonathan Demme's Citizens Band, a movie that puts the emphasis on the sense of community that's formed by characters existing on society's fringes rather than the fringe characters who evolve from the previously established communities in films such as Nashville and Mean Streets. And while Boogie Nights remains refreshingly nonjudgmental about its characters, an overly simplistic moralism nevertheless governs the story's overall path: Those who reach great heights must also experience great depths and the only thing that can save these individuals is their ultimate acceptance of the supremacy of “the family.” Still, most of these hesitations are fodder for post-screening rumination. Boogie Nights will keep you going 'til morn.
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