First off, disclaimer: if you don’t know already, this is a film about the porn industry, and it flirts with the line a number of times, so if you’re not comfortable with that, you will most likely not be comfortable with this film. Now, with that said; God, am I a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan. He’s probably the, undoubtedly one of, the best directors to appear in the last 20 years, and each of his films is such a zeitgeist of cinema, he’ll easily win over anyone who really cares about the finer points of film. This, Boogie Nights, was his breakout film, and it would establish much of what would become signature P.T. Anderson.
The film opens with a nicely long tracking shot, from the outside going into a nightclub and the various players that will come into prominence later in the film. I’ve said a number of things before about how I feel about the usage of handheld camera, mostly because it’s used so liberally that people don’t know how to use it correctly. I’m thankful to say, Anderson knows how to use it correctly; the film comes across as a docu-drama, and this was certainly Anderson’s intention, and the handheld camera never devolves into shakycam, like so many other handheld-done films that deliberately screw up the camerawork and call it style (I’m looking at you, Precious). The acting is well done, particularly from Burt Reynolds, who got an Oscar nom for this one, and the screenplay is well done as well; like I said, there’s plenty of inklings of what would make later Anderson films so great.
The main qualm I had with this was that, while everything was standout, it was all also very rudimentary; this film would be a great study course on exactly how and what to do to make a great film. That being said, having the film be so cookie-cutter about it may rub some people the wrong way, and it may just be my rose-tinted glasses for Anderson that allow me to forgive it and enjoy the film regardless. Still, there’s a lot to love about Boogie Nights, and even more to appreciate about it. I can see how this was removed from later editions, but I’m glad it made the initial list, and I think this is one that you should definitely give it a chance.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10