BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sex Scenes with Explicit Dialogue, Nudity, Drug Use, Language and Violence

Boogie Nights poster

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Luis Guzman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Baker Hall, Alfred Molina & Thomas Jane

If you look up any “Best Films of the 90’s” list, you’re likely to see BOOGIE NIGHTS included on a few of them. There are quality reasons for that. This is the sophomore effort of Paul Thomas Anderson (who has received a lot of critical acclaim as a master storyteller), showcases a sprawling cast of big name actors, and received three Academy Award nominations (Supporting Actor and Actress, and Original Screenplay). This lengthy drama (over two hours) spans across a decade around a group people in the pornography business in a style reminiscent of Scorsese’s crime epics.

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Eddie Adams is a high school dropout living with his parents and working at a shady nightclub on the other side of town. It’s 1977 and the adult entertainment industry is booming. It comes as no surprise that Eddie runs across Jack Horner, a successful pornographic filmmaker interested in recruiting a well-endowed newcomer. Under the new name of Dirk Diggler, Eddie becomes infatuated with this amazing money-making business of sex and pleasure. All good things come to an end though and the bigger they are the harder they fall. You can see where this is heading…

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What’s really cool about BOOGIE NIGHTS is that it doesn’t just focus on Dirk Diggler in this time period. Instead, the overall plot is made up of a colorful characters given life by stellar cast members. These include the other porn stars and the film crew (ranging from the director to the sound guy to the cameraman and even the producer with skeletons in his closet). Each character is interesting in their own unique way. My two favorites being William H. Macy’s assistant director and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s boom-mic operator. Dirk Diggler might not be the most compelling or redeemable person in the film (especially once fame gets to his head and ego), but it’s something else to see Mark Wahlberg acting his ass off in a part that’s unlike anything you see him play now. This is a film full of different stories and most of them revolve around living the dream and watching that lifestyle crumble away.

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BOOGIE NIGHTS doesn’t just rely on an amazing screenplay and stellar acting. It also has a whole lot of style to it. There’s a lot of confidence apparent in the directing here. A nice use of filters is made in showing off clips of Dirk’s films and the stereotypical music used in those faux pornos cracked me up (one trailer of a Bond-like piece of smut is hysterical). I would be remiss not to mention the awesome soundtrack that again is very much Scorsese-like in its use. There are a couple of moments of original score (including a moment I’d like to dub the heartbreak montage), but the film strings along many cool 70’s and 80’s hits to directly inject the viewer inside the scene’s time period.

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Seeing that BOOGIE NIGHTS takes place across both the late 70’s and the 80’s, the business of adult films is both glamorized and then torn down in just over two hours. The lifestyle we see Dirk living is a good one during the 70’s time period, but we also see the problems that come with it in the 80’s. As the porn stars try to go their own paths (John C. Reilly’s character notes “No one can fuck forever”) is where bad things happen. Despite the film supposedly being billed as only about the pornography business, we see how this former line of work takes its toll on budding careers in music and business owning. Cocaine also plays a huge part in the film as well and leads to possibly the best drug deal scene in film history.

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Seeing as the film is about people working in pornography, you’d expect some graphic sex scenes and there are a couple. However, it’s refreshingly toned down in the actual on-screen “porn” and doesn’t revel in the sex itself…at least from a movie with a plot like this. This may turn people off of the movie, because topless big-breasted women are shown as well as close-ups of thrusting. What I’m trying to say is that BOOGIE NIGHTS wasn’t nearly as graphic sexually as I was expecting it to be and that’s a plus, but I can imagine a lot of people snubbing their noses at this film even though it’s not about pornography (opting to focus on people).

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BOOGIE NIGHTS has been described as the GOODFELLAS of porn and I’m backing that up as the most accurate description for this flick. Paul Thomas Anderson displays remarkable talent in his second(!) film and the Oscar nominations were well deserved. It’s not as sexually graphic as you might believe, though there’s definitely a fair share of nudity given the subject matter. There’s less of an overall plot and more of a group of connected stories that make up the film. BOOGIE NIGHTS is fantastic!

Grade: A

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