Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Mark Whalberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham
PTA Does MDMA
Paul Thomas Anderson is renowned for making weighty films filled with masterful directing, writing and acting. There Will Be Blood (my first taste of PTA) almost immediately became one of my top five favourites, resembling one of Stanley Kubrick’s very best. I gave Magnolia a watch more recently and the whole thing astounded me with its emotional depth and richness. I’d been saving up Boogie Nights as many consider it Paul’s greatest film. At a mere 26 years old, he created a critically-acclaimed masterpiece that blew his debut (which is still a pretty good film) out of the water. I couldn’t wait to give Boogie Nights a watch and it didn’t disappoint.
I know it’s not a popular opinion, but I still think There Will Be Blood and Magnolia are far better than Boogie Nights. However, that just shows how talented our Paul is as a filmmaker because Boogie Nights is a seriously terrific achievement right from the opening sombre music. We’re then hit immediately by a blasting 70’s pop track and a sweeping camera which takes us into the mind of Madonna when she was working on Confessions on a Dancefloor. A beautiful retro disco with all the main characters being introduced with perfect camera timing, I don’t know how Paul managed to do it but it’s a fantastic piece of camerawork and it almost feels as though he’s showing off a bit.
The film is a rags to riches tale, with more than a touch of irony to it, of a young and naïve dishwasher who’s whisked away by Burt Reynolds to become the biggest porn star there’s ever been! The first half is the more entertaining and funny half. It’s full of infectious energy and memorable characters who jump off the screen. For a film about the porn industry, there’s surprisingly little smut aside from an extended sequence where Mark Whalberg films his first sex scene with Julianne Moore. It’s extremely lively and full of fab scenes such as another impressive Steadicam move around a pool party and a fun montage showing Dirk Diggler’s rise to pornographic stardom.
The darker, second half is the more interesting one for me. We’re suddenly plunged into the 80’s and watch as everyone’s lives go spiralling towards hell. The once friendly Dirk has turned into an egotistical cocaine-addict and Burt Reynolds has become a desperate director pimping his surrogate daughter out to strangers on the street. It’s a sad chapter which adds weight and morality to the tale. The film could’ve been a terrific comedy in the vein of the Wolf of Wall Street, but the second half offers a lovely bleak balance and shows us that pornography is not an industry to aspire to get into. The seemingly fulfilled characters become much deeper and more tragic figures.
There are some lovely scenes. One sequence which I really loved was a montage where all the characters are at their lowest. The music suited the scene so well and it felt very unsettling and intense. I also liked the moment where we’re given a glimpse into Julianne Moore’s life as she discusses getting custody of her child with her ex-husband. The film stops being fun and starts to become a much more serious beast set in a real world more closer to our own. Boogie Nights handles its many characters so expertly, kind of in the same way Magnolia did, although to a slightly lesser extent.
Just when you think the film can’t throw up any more brilliance, the best scene pops up towards the end. It involves Dirk’s pathetic gang trying to orchestrate a drug deal at Alfred Molina’s house. Everything about this scene is pretty much perfect from the acting to the music to the tense, unpredictable atmosphere. Even the firecrackers are a masterstroke! It erupts into a Quentin Tarantino styled shootout and the unpredictability of it all makes for a thrilling watch. In fact, the entire film is filled with so many terrific scenes that it makes for a very high rewatchability factor.
My only complaint would be that, like Dirk’s manhood, it’s quite overlong. I think I would’ve preferred more of a focus on the 80’s segment rather than the 70’s. However, Boogie Nights is still a really great film. The thing that stands out the most is the masterful directing by the young Paul Thomas Anderson. Some argue that it’s a Martin Scorsese rip-off but I’d argue that his style is even better than Martin Scorsese. It’s a fantastic ride which leaves you with a lot to ponder about. So get your glad rags on and hit the dancefloor kids!