Monday, December 8, 2008

Review: Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights (1997, Paul Thomas Anderson)

Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a 17 year old, polite and mostly quiet dishwasher boy working at Rodriguez’ (Luis Guzman) funky night club in the late 1970s. He doesn’t get along well with his mother, who firmly believes he his a stupid little boy wasting his life away. But a fortuitous meeting with Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) one night in the kitchen of the club changes Eddie’s life, and eventually his very name, forever. Jack is in the adult film industry, making exotic and highly stimulating porno for the fans. He likes what he sees in Eddie, especially what’s in his pants, and makes him an offer to star in sex films. And thus their partnership begins, and so does this epic movie about life in the sex film industry.

I use the word ‘epic’ for several reasons. For one, the story takes place over the course several years during which time we see the rise and fall of these people, as well as the changes that are brought upon the industry (from showing sex films in theatre rooms to the advent of video tapes). Not to mention that the movie is populated with a host of colorful characters, all related to the porno industry, who all have at least some screen time devoted to them. There is Jack’s wife and famous porno star Amber (Julianne Moore), their younger protégé Roller Girl (Heather Graham), actor and sound system seller Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), actor Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) crew members played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and William H. Macy, and the Colonel (in other words, the producer) played by Robert Ridgeley, to name a few (my boy… or one of them anyways, Tom Jane, even makes an appearance). As the story advances through the years, the viewer is invited to see how the ‘business’ shapes and influences all these people and how they take genuine pride in what they do, despite what some of us may think of porno films. For all these reasons Boogie Nights is a special film. It is an honest, mostly dramatic (with smidgeons of laughs here and there) look at the inner life of a often frowned upon line of work. The movie takes its subject material very seriously. This isn’t a porno film. It’s a film about the business, which it is first and foremost.

The characters and their relations with one another were more than enough to hold my interest. Jack and Eddie, who changes his name to the very sexy Dirk Diggler, get along like peanut butter and bread, that is, until the money and drugs afflict the young man. Their relationship comes full circle in the end, but the time spent on Diggler’s downfall is indeed entertaining, if not as much as his early years in the business. Not everyone is offered a great amount of screen time, but the acting chops save most of the supporting characters. John C. Reilly as Rothchild becomes Diggler’s closest friend and obviously enjoys playing the sidekick porno role very much. This is arguably the best material I’ve seen Burt Reynolds work in, so that must count for a few more points.

Boogie Nights receives a serious audio boost with a smashing soundtrack. The music in films is generally not a top priority when judging a film, but here the 70s and 80s funk, disco and rock fits in perfectly with the setting. It never takes over the scenes either, which is nice. It should be noted that the film contains several tracking shots which follow either one character or several characters as they discuss, dance away at parties, or shoot their wives. These shots are finely executed and succeed in telling parts of the story or setting the mood or tone of a sequence. That is to say, they never feel forced and wanting of particular attention.

If there was one element that irked me, it would be that the plot feels a tad bit mechanical. I suspect many viewers will detect how the story should unfold, since it follows the similar pattern that most ‘from rags to riches’ tales do as well. It’s a finely crafted movie, with good dialogue, an interesting subject matter and a host of gifted actors putting on a true show, but its plot development isn’t the least bit imaginative. Something tells me that such an issue is irrelevant with such a film, but it’s nonetheless an issue that I took note of.

Who doesn’t want John C. Reilly as their best friend anyways?

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