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Boogie Nights (Platinum Series) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 August 2000

Boogie Nights (Special Edition)

New Line Home Video
MPAA rating: R
starring: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Luis Guzman, Don Cheadle, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heather Graham, Thomas Jane, William H. Macy, Ricky Jay, John C. Reilly, Robert Ridgely, Alfred Molina, Melora Walters, Robert Downey, Robert Downey, Jr.
release year: 1997
film rating: Five stars
sound/picture: Four stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

'Boogie Nights' by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is dazzling and involving, funny and dramatic, affectionate and satiric -- and wonderfully entertaining from opening scene to the last image. It's about two and a half hours, but there's not a dull frame in the movie. The most original movie of 1997, it established Anderson at once as a major director; this was only confirmed by 'Magnolia.'

The way Anderson handles a Panavision camera is novel -- he uses off-center, even unbalanced compositions -- and his occasional quick cuts is unusual, almost innovative. But mostly, it's in the way he approaches his material that's so refreshing and entertaining, and so radically different from the films named above, which are critical of the subsections of society in which they take place. 'Boogie Nights' is about people who make pornographic movies; Anderson knows the profession is limiting and potentially dangerous, but he doesn't judge any of his characters for being involved in it. He sees them as a quirky little family, and he loves them for it. You're likely to feel the same way.

The movie opens in the San Fernando Valley in 1977, at the disco run by exuberant Maurice Rodriguez (Luis Guzman); he's delighted when Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) arrive, treating them as superstars. Jack notices a hunky but shy young waiter; when he approaches him in the kitchen, the young guy, Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), assumes Jack is gay, and offers to masturbate for $10. But Jack has other things in mind, especially when he realizes that Eddie has a 13-inch penis. Jack is a director of hardcore films, and is always on the lookout for talent, if that's the word.

Eddie's a little skeptical, but his relationship with his parents is rocky, and he wants to get out of Torrance. And there's that length of hose, and he does know how to use it. Jack auditions Eddie with bouncy young Rollergirl (Heather Graham), one of his more enthusiastic stars, who never takes off her rollerskates.

He moves in with Jack and Amber, who have a big pool party where Jack meets Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), another of Jack's stars, as well as pudgy, geeky Scotty J (Philip Seymour Hoffman), whom we, but not Eddie, realize immediately falls for the newcomer big time, but is too shy to do anything about it. Also at the party are Horner stars Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), The Colonel James (Robert Ridgely), Jack's jovial but vaguely sleazy backer, Little Bill (William H. Macy), Jack's partner, and Kurt Longjohn (Ricky Jay), his cinematographer.

That night, Eddie announces that he's thought of a new name for himself, a name that spells "star," a name that he envisions in blue neon (which we see), a name so powerful that it would make the sign explode (it does): DIRK DIGGLER. Jack thinks it's a fine name, and from then on, Eddie is Dirk Diggler. A star is born.

At first, it's all gravy and glory; Dirk wins trophy after trophy at the hardcore film awards; he's praised in the press, and he can work all day and all night long. He's never had anything like real family before, and he blends in happily with good-hearted Jack and his cronies. Sure, father Jack, shoots lots of scenes of mother Amber, having sex with son, Dirk -- but what family doesn't have its own style? They really do care about one another.

But come 1980, things start falling apart for all of them. This really is one of those classic rise-and-fall-of-a-star movies, although this one doesn't end in tragedy, but rather things just get worse, and stay that way.

While Anderson does not condemn these people at all, nor their profession, 'Boogie Nights' does have something to say; boiled down, it's "don't believe your press notices." He doesn't condemn the business, he instead condemns the illusions it fosters.

'Boogie Nights' has a loose, improvisational feel; as revealed in his extremely interesting commentary track, Anderson did tightly script the film, but allowed room for improvisation, especially by the great John C. Reilly, one of his favorite actors (and best friends).

There's a sweet naivete to almost all the characters; Jack is older and more sophisticated than Dirk, for example, but he's really not much smarter, and has much the same worldview, as indicated by his honestly saying that "Dirk Diggler" is a great name. Jack could never had ended up as a director in the real movie business, but he's a little king here, and he's a benign, forgiving monarch. He's a very limited man, but it's a limited field, and he's a perfect match.

This was Burt Reynolds' best role since 'Deliverance,' and he fits it as well as Jack fits the porno biz. Toward the end, when his worldview is changed forever because of the advent of hardcore videos, Jack seems like a wounded optimist, a man whose dreams have been broken. Reynolds never lets Jack show despair, or even many weaknesses at all; in fact, he rallies at the end because of his real strength -- his patriarchal nature.

Mark Wahlberg used is simply wonderful. He clearly understands sad, sweet Eddie/Dirk, his limited intellect and why he goes astray. We become so fond of Dirk that even when he's being a bastard, our reaction is not to dislike him, but to worry about him, to hope that he'll straighten himself out.

This is an ensemble film, and everyone is excellent. William H. Macy is the current leading hapless shmoe in movies, and he's rarely been more hapless than he is here. Julianne Moore gives yet another of her seemingly endless series of absolutely great, totally truthful performances.

But however good the cast is, and they're all excellent, the real triumphs here belong to Paul Thomas Anderson. The movie has an unusual range of moods and content, and he handles everything with the aplomb of a master, and the insight of a poet. He'll drift away from a two-shot to a daringly off-center closeup, and drift back. He uses moving camera to express character and to demonstrate setting, never for its own sake. 'Boogie Nights' is almost flawless on its own level. It's a richly-textured movie about shallow but likable people, honest, comic, satiric and sympathetic. I've never seen anything else quite like it.

New Line has released a two-disc DVD of 'Boogie Nights' in its "Platinum" series. Anderson provides a warm, enthusiastic commentary track by himself, then does a much less successful track in which he alternates between separately-recorded interviews he conducted with Wahlberg, Don Cheadle and John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, and William Macy and Heather Graham. They all have a great time talking to one another, but Anderson's solo track is the one to listen to.

The disc also includes many deleted scenes, all of which are interesting, including three with John C. Reilly, which are isolated as "The John C. Reilly Files." Two of the sequences were never intended to go into the film; one was a birthday present for composer Michael Penn (brother of Sean and Chris), another was done just for Anderson's own amusement. All are worth watching.

Technically, the disc is excellent, and the sound is no exception; Chapter 33, with Alfred Molina's explosive cameo, might be the best showcase. Otherwise, any sequence you want to choose will feature Anderson's layered soundtrack.
An outstanding movie, an outstanding disc.

If you liked this DVD, you may also enjoy, Magnolia, Hard Eight, and Nashville.

more details
sound format:
Dolby digital 5.1
aspect ratio(s):
special features: many extras as described above
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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