Reviewed by: Brian Nigro
Controversial movies, for whatever reason, are always assumed to “glamorize” their subjects. And, it’s always generational—in the 1930’s, for instance, Garbo’s classic “Anna Karenina” was dismissed as “smut.” Which puts a burden on Christian adults who will inevitably find socially redeeming value in “Boogie Nights”, easily the most explicit anti-pornography movie ever released.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson, obviously, seems amused by pornography, and this isn’t directed with an “anti-pornography” message. But it’s there. Just like how director Martin Scorsese is amused by organized crime and Quentin Tarnatino is amused with 1940’s film noirs. Seeing Uma Thurman overdose on heroin in “Pulp Fiction” should be “anti-drug” enough for most people, and, likewise, there are similar dire consequences of pornography in “Boogie Nights”.
Essentially, “Boogie Nights” is an exhausting, three-hour story in the fallen-angel tradition. Mark Wahlberg headlines as a high-school dropout in 1970’s California who’s taken under the wing of porno director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), who becomes a father figure to him. He gets drawn into an underworld of porno stars and drug parties. Throughout the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, most of these losers pay the piper:
Wahlberg’s character goes from rags to riches back to rags. He hits rock bottom and has to return to Horner just to survive.
Bill (William H. Macy), frustrated with his wife’s freewheeling adultery, shoots her off-screen and then, on-screen, himself.
Buck (Don Cheadle) wants to open a home-stereo store, but the bank won’t give him a loan: “We don’t finance pornographers,” he’s told. He gets the money another way (in the movie’s most unexpected, violent, way.)
What most people will find offensive and downright repulsive about “Boogie Nights”, strictly by content, is how ambivalent and “hands-off” the director takes towards these characters. The only character I really sympathized with was Amber (Moore from “The Lost World”), and that’s because she has children inadvertently exposed to her lifestyle, each time they call. It’s not a pretty picture.
Regarding the ratings controversy. Although the sex, nudity, violence, and profanity is extreme, it accounts for maybe a fraction of the movie at the beginning. This is not a three-hour “smut fest.” Not even close. Nonetheless, AVOID “Boogie Nights” like the plague unless you’re familiar with film-school cinematography like “tracking shots” and “long takes.” That’s the only potential audience for this material.
ALTERNATE RECOMMENDATION: Bill Perkins' excellent book, When Good Men Are Tempted