November 10, 1997 -- "Boogie Nights" is a searing indictment of not only the adult entertainment industry, but the whole value-free Hollywood lifestyle of the late 1970s and 1980s. At the same time it has a certain sympathy for its characters. Who was it that said, "Enigmas reveal truth?"
The story is about a young none-too-bright young busboy with acting and singing ambitions by the name of Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg of "Fear" and "The Basketball Diaries"). He is spotted by adult film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) at a nightclub owned by a friend, Maurice T. Rodriguez (Luis Guzmán, who appears as Nicholas Turturro's father on "NYPD Blue").
After having Adams perform sex with one of his performers, "Rollergirl" (Heather Graham, who played Lorraine in "Swingers") while Horner watches, he decides the well-endowed Adams should be in the movies. Adams starts doing skin flicks and changes his name to Dirk Diggler.
Diggler rockets to the top of the porn world even begins to act out his fantasies as a James Bond-type character called Brock Landers in a series of action ski flicks with his friend Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly of "Casualties of War") who plays Landers' sidekick Chest Rockwell. Horner and his cinematographer, Kurt Longjohn (played by Ricky Jay a magician-actor who appeared in "House of Games"), both want to create more meaningful films. They jump at the chance to push the adult film genre. Everything's going great, but it doesn't last. It never does.
Diggler begins sniffing cocaine with Amber Waves (Julianne Moore, who starred in "The Lost World"). Waves wants to be like a mother to the younger porn stars because she has lost custody of her own son. Diggler has never grown up and thinks he is invincible in his newfound success. Rapidly, he sinks even lower than a busboy in a nightclub.
This would be an interesting enough story, but the film has numerous other stories spiraling off in many directions, following many other characters. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson does a pretty good job of keeping all this stuff from flying apart, but some of these subplots are less interesting and less related to the film's central subject than others. There are also several shootings, beatings, a suicide and lots of blood splattered all over the place. I was expecting more of a comedy. Surprise.
Violence that flows from the actions of the characters I can understand, and there is plenty of that, but tossing in purely random violence on top that seems excessive to me. The camera work and editing were a little sloppy. A number of long tracking shots seem to call attention to technique and away from the film's subject matter. This is one area where the film's modest budget is a drawback. There is some nudity, including a full view some impressive male genitalia, but you have to expect that, given the subject matter.
Overall, despite some weaknesses, it is a compelling story. Wahlberg, as Diggler, carries the film. It is a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. This is also Burt Reynold's best work in many years as the enigmatic Horner. Horner is at once warm and friendly, cold and calculating, exploitative and loving. There are many fine performances in the film by a number of fine actors, including last year's Oscar winner for best supporting actor in "Fargo," William H. Macy. The film's disco-laden soundtrack is also fun to listen to. This film rates a B.
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