Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson
John S. Lyons
Mark Wahlberg (Dirk Diggler)
Burt Reynolds (Jack Horner)
Julianne Moore (Amber Waves)
Luis Guzmán (Maurice T. Rodriguez)
Don Cheadle (Buck Swope)
Philip Baker Hall (Floyd Gondolli)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Scotty)
Heather Graham (Rollergirl)
Thomas Jane (Todd Parker)
William H. Macy (Little Bill)
John C. Reilly (Reed Rothchild)
Ricky Jay (Kurt Longjohn)
Robert Ridgely (Colonel James)
Alfred Molina (Rahad Jackson)
Nicole Ari Parker (Becky Barnett)
Melora Walters (Jessie St. Vincent)
Nina Hartley (Little Bill's Wife)
John Doe (Amber's Ex-Husband)
Joanna Gleason (Dirk's Mother)
Laurel Holloman (Sheryl Lynn)
mpaa rating: R
release: October 10,
availability: VHS -
thomas anderson films
reviewed on this website:
Nights shows a gifted
young filmmaker -- Paul Thomas Anderson, who's only 27 -- with
a severe case of "Hey, Look, Ma, I'm a Director!" No
doubt it's the most energetic, exuberant piece of moviemaking
this season; if only energy and exuberance equalled greatness.
It can, in the hands of a master like Martin Scorsese.
But Anderson, in this film, is only a skilled imitator. Boogie
Nights is lively and often powerful; it's impossible to dislike,
unless you can't get past the subject matter. But it's far from
the masterpiece that many critics claim it is.
This is Anderson's second film, after the taut, superior drama
Hard Eight, released earlier this year. Hard Eight
was original and unpredictable, though much less ambitious; Boogie
Nights has ambition to burn. Anderson wants to bypass sophomore
slump and blow everyone away, as Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino
did with their second films. Anderson wants it all; he
wants to be Scorsese, Tarantino, even Robert Altman (Boogie
Nights tries for the kaleidoscopic sweep of Altman's Nashville).
But Hard Eight showed what he can do when he's content
to be himself.
The ambition shows even in the subject: the porn-film world at
its "peak" in the late '70s, before it succumbed to
video in the '80s. Anderson strains to convince us that this
is a worthy subject for a 152-minute film -- he frames the rise
and fall of a lunkheaded porn star as a tragicomic epic. But
there are too many characters, each with only a single trait.
William H. Macy appears as a cameraman with an arrogantly unfaithful
wife; you giggle at his hideous '70s wig, and you want to see
more of him. But all Macy gets to do is sulk over his wife, and
his final rage comes from nowhere. (How do his colleagues react
to his outburst? We never find out.) It's a waste of a fine actor,
and an example of Anderson's one-note screenwriting here.
Boogie Nights is about Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a
busboy groomed by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) to
be the next big thing. (Jack's father-son relationship with Eddie
recalls Hard Eight, where a veteran gambler took a young
loser under his wing.) Innocent Eddie, endowed with a prodigious
member, becomes "Dirk Diggler," celebrated porn stud.
He finds a family among Jack's crew, including porn queen Amber
Waves (Julianne Moore), who loses custody of her son and acts
as den mother to Eddie and other lost sheep. Stardom goes to
Eddie's head; he turns into an egotistical cokehead and swiftly
drops into squalor.
And I just told you the story in 150 fewer minutes than it takes
Anderson. Boogie Nights is long but never boring -- it
flies by. But it has epic length without epic depth. It
flits along, observing and sketching. Much of it is immensely
enjoyable; Anderson throws a lot of stuff at the wall, and some
of it sticks. Julianne Moore is vividly poignant as a woman who
uses sex to conceal her desolation, and Alfred Molina turns up
as a crazed cokehead and sends the film's energy level through
the roof. Yet even his scene is a caffeinated copy of the drug-deal-goes-sour
sequence in Brian De Palma's Scarface.
After a while, the borrowings add up. De Palma is also a cheerful
thief, as is Tarantino, but they seal their homages with a prankish
wit all their own. Anderson is too ambitious to be prankish,
but he also isn't above lifting shots and entire scenes from
Scorsese. You sit there thinking "Okay, that's GoodFellas"
and "Oh, now he's doing Taxi Driver" as the
camera tracks and swoops, or dives in and out of a pool. Critics
are responding to Anderson's joie de cinema, and I did,
too. But adding a prosthetic penis to the last scene of Raging
Bull isn't exactly an improvement. Boogie Nights is
a well-acted, compassionate study of a sordid milieu. It's also
almost totally second-hand.