Boogie Nights (1997)

P.T. Anderson oozes incredible confidence and panache as a master filmmaker in-the-making in this sophomore period film about the exploits of a ragtag group of cast and crew working in the American porn industry. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
1997 | USA | Drama | 155 mins | 2.39:1 | English
R21 (passed clean) for strong sex scenes with explicit dialogue, nudity, drug use, language and violence

Cast:  Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Don Cheadle, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Plot: The story of a young man’s adventures in the California pornography industry of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Awards: Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay
Source: Warner

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

Made when he was only 27 years of age, Boogie Nights sees P.T. Anderson oozing incredible confidence and panache as a master filmmaker in-the-making. 

What a gift it must have been to track his meteoric rise as arguably the most talented American filmmaker to emerge from the 1990s this side of Quentin Tarantino. 

As ambitious as any sophomore picture could be, Boogie Nights is a sprawling 155-minute drama chronicling, albeit fictionally, a young man’s exploits in the Californian porn industry in the late 1970s to early 1980s. 

We follow Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), the new porn star in town who is making waves, as he enjoys unprecedented fame as well as suffers insulting lows. 

“I like simple pleasures, like butter in my ass, lollipops in my mouth. That’s just me. That’s just something that I enjoy.”

With Anderson’s gift for dialogue and extraordinary ability to bring out the unique characterisations of his ragtag group of actors (the likes of Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, and more, would return in his 1999 follow-up—the three-hour long opus, Magnolia), Boogie Nights is compelling at every turn of the narrative, even if it sometimes succumbs to storytelling predictability, notably in its weaker final 20 or so minutes. 

Its editing and cinematography, however, are top-notch, very much echoing the relentless energy and creativity of, say, some of Scorsese’s finest works such as Casino (1995) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). 

Boogie Nights ultimately feels like a significant piece of cinema, despite its raunchy subject matter; in fact, as much as the film centers on Dirk’s travails, Anderson also brings to sharp focus the mechanics of filmmaking at play, and how something as distasteful as porn might be thought of as artfully cinematic.  In this sense, one could appreciate Boogie Nights as a fantasy.

Grade: A-




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