Wahlberg's Big Performance is Moore than Expected
"Boogie Nights" starring Mark Wahlberg, Heather Graham and Julianne Moore could have so easily turned into a glorified soft porn movie as it tries to delve into the shady careers of those involved in the adult movie industry during the 70s and 80s. It could have cheapened everything by filling the screen with nudity and sex scenes in search of cheap thrills. But instead director Paul Thomas Anderson makes "Boogie Nights" a well crafted drama about the adult movie industry covering the lives of those who work in it during a time when it was going through a transition and as such is remarkably engaging. Yes there are sex scenes and nudity, some of which are quite infamous such as the one featuring a prosthetic appendage, but "Boogie Nights" is more than just shallow titillation, it is fascinating.
Having dropped out of high school and found work in a nightclub called 'Boogie Nights', Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg - The Basketball Diaries) is discovered by adult movie maker Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds - Striptease) who spots Eddie's obvious talent and plans to make him star. Having changed his name to Dirk Diggler, young Eddie soon becomes a hit in the adult movie making scene along with other members of Jack's ensemble including the obliging Rollergirl (Heather Graham - Six Degrees of Separation) and Amber Waves (Julianne Moore - The Lost World: Jurassic Park). But having gone from the 70s into the 80s the industry starts to change and all those in the adult movie business begin to suffer as their stars lose their shine.
What makes "Boogie Nights" work is that it concentrates on the lives of those involved from Eddie Adams who went on to become Dirk Diggler, through to Bill the long suffering assistant director who has to put up with his porn star wife's lust for having sex with who ever, where ever and when ever, as well as all those other characters big or small. It's this character focus as we go through the drama of their lives, the rise and fall of careers, the decline into drugs and turning cheap tricks on street corners to the regrets of those who become tarnished for being part of the porn industry which makes it fascinating. It's a marvellous set of character studies, almost creating a porn family who come to realise their need for each other.
One of the most remarkable things is that "Boogie Nights" feels a little similar to a Martin Scorsese movie, where in fact it was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The way the movie focuses on telling the story of individuals over a time period is reminiscent to the likes of "Goodfellas" and "Casino". But it is also other elements such as the prominent soundtrack to help create the era and some stunning camera work which tracks the action in a scene without cutting, very much in the style of Scorsese. But then there are some other nice additions, the way two scenes link together through a series of quick fire moments really is quite a nice touch, making it feel more than just Anderson trying to imitate Scorsese.
Of course there has to be the sex element of the movie and there are several sex scenes featuring many of the stars which are quite visually impacting, be it the scene where Heather Graham as Rollergirl disrobes to have sex on command, or Dirk Diggler's first sex scene with Amber Waves, brilliantly played by Julianne Moore. In fact many of the sex scenes are quite artistic rather than cheap but also fun. Talking of which with the storyline being partly about the well endowed Dirk Diggler, Anderson has great fun earlier on teasing us as to how big his cock is. It's quite good fun watching the faces of those behind the scenes as well as those he sleeps with when they first witness his large endowment. Although when the reveal scene does eventually come with Mark Wahlberg standing with what I presume is a prosthetic appendage it is a little limp, if you excuse the pun.
Whilst the storyline and the direction of "Boogie Nights" is first class there are no real complaints when it comes to the performances either. Mark Wahlberg, who at the time was still better known as a singer rather than actor, does a brilliant job of playing Eddie/ Dirk Diggler with not so much a naivety about him, but one of more willingness to do stuff, saying that he has been given a gift. Alongside Wahlberg is an equally wonderful Heather Graham as Rollergirl who comes into her own later on in the movie where her past comes back to haunt her. The same can be said for Julianne Moore who as porn star Amber Waves almost becomes a mother to the young starlets to make up for the loss of her own children. The scenes between Mark Wahlberg and Julianne Moore are particularly good be it the initial sex scene or as their friendship progresses.
There are numerous other very good performances through out including a slightly comedic turn from John C. Reilly, a more emotional side from William H. Macy and a funny yet not comedic performance from Don Cheadle. But what ties all of them together is a brilliant performance from Burt Reynolds as adult movie maker Jack Horner who is not really fatherly but is the connection between all the characters. What is nice is that whilst Jack Horner is a strong character it is a restrained performance from Reynolds to make him sleazy but also someone that you also sort of feel for especially as the adult movie scene evolves around him.
What this all boils down to is that "Boogie Nights" is quite a brilliant movie. It manages to delve into the adult movie industry without relying on just cheap tricks and sex to try and keep your attention. Instead it is an interesting look, with many memorable scenes, at the lives of those involved covering their rise and fall as well as other issues. "Boogie Nights" certainly has a touch of the Scorsese about it but coming from director Paul Thomas Anderson has something extra as well as he stamps his mark on it.