What makes “Boogie Nights” different is, of course, is the porn industry backdrop. More specifically, the porn world of the late ’70s when it still had some class -- at least, according to those within it.
What elevates the film to masterpiece territory is the work by absolutely everyone involved, most of all writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. “Boogie Nights” presents a landscape so detailed, so rich in characters, that it feels like something that couldn’t exist today. Nobody has the patience for this kind of wonderful filmmaking anymore.
Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a young, ambitious, but not too bright kid working dead-end jobs and living at home. He believes wholeheartedly that everybody is given one “thing” to help them succeed in life. His “thing” happens to be tucked away in his trousers.
An older adult film director (Burt Reynolds) spots Eddie, learns about his “talent” and invites him to become an actor. We meet multitudes of other characters including those played by Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, John C. Reilly and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. However, the best arcs are saved for Reynolds’ and Wahlberg’s characters. They end up defining this world we are invited into.
And what a world it is.
For a movie about the adult film industry, “Boogie Nights” is quite tame compared to what we might expect. Anderson never uses the movie as an excuse to titillate and exploit (something that would no doubt be par for the course if it were made today).
Rather, Anderson builds his world through the normalcy of his characters. He shows them as just as lost, dumb and bloated as people in any industry. There’s more laughs here because they all happen to be working in porn. It’s still a noble effort to capture a taboo realm in some rather daring, quiet ways.
The film captures its time period effortlessly, down to the tiniest details. It’s so confident in its vintage look that it brings to mind other engrossing movies set in the past such as fellow ’90s classic “Goodfellas.”
Anderson isn’t as interested in a singular plot as other filmmakers. He’s a very talented writer, but he’s an even better director. He’s able to string this world together through long, individual sets with characters at various high and low points in their lives.
It probably makes “Boogie Nights” less of a crowd pleaser, but it also means it’s worth watching over and again. There are so many characters here, so many small moments, that the film can feel fresh after repeated viewings.
The highlight of this already spectacular film is the work of Wahlberg and Reynolds. Both provide the best performances of their careers.
Reynolds is able to capture his jaded character in a way that is fascinating to watch. He brings such relatability to a character with whom no one would ordinarily connect.
As for Wahlberg, if this were the only movie I’d ever seen the superstar in, I’d say he was the next Marlon Brando. There’s a scenes where it’s just Wahlberg and the camera, and you are glued to the screen. All the other actors do wonderful work here as well, from Moore to Reilly.
FAST FACT: Bill Murray, Warren Beatty, Sydney Pollack, Albert Brooks and Harvey Keitel were originally considered for the role Burt Reynolds plays in ‘Boogie Nights.’
If you manage to make it all the way through “Boogie Nights” without liking it, there is still a large section of film that should impress everybody. It’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking that is one of the best, most nerve racking, multi-layered scenes in film history. It involves drugs, firecrackers and flawless execution from the sound to the camera work.
If you don’t know the scene in question then go rent or stream “Boogie Nights.” It’s truly one of a kind.